Florida man facing 5 federal charges for allegedly mailing explosive devices to Democrats
Trump says media is trying to use 'the sinister actions of one individual to score political points'
U.S. authorities say a fingerprint on an envelope was key to tracking down Cesar Sayoc, the 56-year-old who was detained in Florida on Friday in connection with the mailing of more than a dozen suspicious parcels containing explosive devices.
Sayoc, of Aventure, Fla., was arrested at an auto-parts store in Plantation just hours after two more suspicious packages were found. Earlier, investigators had homed in on a postal facility in Opa-locka where they believe some of the packages containing home-made bombs originated.
Court records show Sayoc, who is now in FBI custody, has a history of arrests.
He's now facing five federal charges, ranging from interstate transportation of an explosive to making threats against former presidents and others. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions initially said Sayoc could face up to 58 years in prison, but the Justice Department later clarified that the correct number is up to 48 years.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the explosives are still being examined to determine if they were functional, but he told reporters they are not considered "hoax" devices. Each of the pipe bombs contained materials that could react and cause a potential explosion, he said.
Wray said as the investigation unfolded, technicians uncovered a latent fingerprint on one of the envelopes addressed to long-serving House Democrat, Maxine Waters.
"There's a reason why the FBI's lab is known as one of the very best in the world," he said. "Once I knew that they had a print, I was pretty confident that we'd be able to find the right person."
Earlier in the day, TV footage showed federal agents and police officers examining a white van, its windows covered with an assortment of stickers, in the Broward County city of Plantation, which is in the Miami metropolitan area. Authorities covered the vehicle with a blue tarp and took it away on the back of a flatbed truck.
The stickers included images of American flags and what appeared to be logos of the Republican National Committee and CNN, though the writing surrounding those images was unclear in footage and photos.
The development came amid a coast-to-coast manhunt for the person or persons responsible for a series of explosive devices addressed to Democrats.
Law enforcement officials said they had intercepted a dozen packages in states across the country. None had exploded, and it wasn't immediately clear if they were intended to cause physical harm or simply sow fear and anxiety. No one has claimed responsibility.
The packages were addressed to multiple prominent Democrats, and some had more than one parcel sent to them.
- George Soros, a wealthy philanthropist and prominent Democratic donor.
- Hillary Clinton, former Democratic presidential nominee and secretary of state.
- Former president Barack Obama.
- Former CIA director John Brennan, via CNN's New York office.
- Former attorney general Eric Holder, who served under Obama. The package addressed to Holder didn't make it to his office, and was instead rerouted to a fake return address.
- Maxine Waters, long-serving California Democratic member of Congress and outspoken Trump critic.
- Former vice-president Joe Biden, who served under Obama.
- Robert De Niro, award-winning actor and vocal Trump critic.
- James Clapper Jr., former director of national intelligence.
- Cory Booker, Democratic senator from New Jersey.
- The office of Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, says a package addressed to her was intercepted.
A 14th package was reportedly addressed to another wealthy contributor to the Democratic Party and liberal causes, Tom Steyer. That parcel was found at a post office outside San Francisco.
Steyer, who has been pushing for Trump's impeachment, told CNN on Friday night that he'd been told the package was sent through the mail. He said he had seen a picture of the package in question, but declined to speculate about whether it resembled the other packages.
The common thread among them was obvious: critical words for Donald Trump and frequent, harsher criticism in return.
Trump said he knows the accused is a supporter, but that does not make him complicit.
"We have seen an effort by the media in recent hours to use the sinister actions of one individual to score political points against me and the Republican Party," Trump said at a political rally in Charlotte, North Carolina. The crowd yelled: "CNN sucks."
Trump, speaking about the arrest while he was addressing the Young Black Leadership Summit in Washington on Friday afternoon, said "these terrorizing acts are despicable" and Americans "must unify."
Funny how lowly rated CNN, and others, can criticize me at will, even blaming me for the current spate of Bombs and ridiculously comparing this to September 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing, yet when I criticize them they go wild and scream, “it’s just not Presidential!”—@realDonaldTrump
Sessions said "from the beginning, this investigative team has made this matter a top priority." He said they moved quickly and drew on "extraordinary" technical expertise to apprehend the accused.
Trump's attorney general cautioned that Sayoc had only been charged, not convicted. But he said, "Let this be a lesson to anyone regardless of their political beliefs that we will bring the full force of law against anyone who attempts to use threats, intimidation and outright violence to further an agenda. We will find you, we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."
When asked about motive, law enforcement had no answers.
The attorney general said he doesn't know why pipe bombs were sent to prominent Democrats and CNN, but says a Florida man charged in the case "appears to be a partisan."
Some of most recent packages intercepted by authorities were addressed to Booker and Clapper — both similar to those containing pipe bombs sent to other prominent Trump critics — had been intercepted.
Clapper has said Trump having access to the nuclear codes is "pretty damn scary" and has questioned his fitness to be in office.
"This is definitely domestic terrorism, no question about it in my mind," Clapper said in an interview Friday with CNN, where he is also a contributor. "This is not going to silence the administration's critics."
The wave of parcel bombs comes less than two weeks before U.S. congressional elections that could alter the balance of power in Washington.
There has been an outcry from Trump's critics, who charged that his inflammatory rhetoric against Democrats and the press has created a climate for politically motivated violence.
After first calling for "unity" and civil discourse on Wednesday, Trump lashed out again Thursday at the "hateful" media. His supporters accused Democrats of unfairly suggesting the president was to blame for the bomb scare.
"A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News," Trump said on Twitter. "It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!"
Brennan fired back.
"Stop blaming others. Look in the mirror," he tweeted. "Your inflammatory rhetoric, insults, lies, & encouragement of physical violence are disgraceful. Clean up your act....try to act Presidential."
Packed with powder, broken glass
The bombs were about 15 centimetres long and packed with powder and broken glass, according to a law enforcement official who viewed X-ray images. The official said the devices were made from PVC pipe and covered with black tape.
The first crude bomb to be discovered was delivered Monday to the suburban New York compound of George Soros, a liberal billionaire and major contributor to Democratic causes. Soros has called Trump's presidency "dangerous."
Similar packages addressed to Clinton and Obama were intercepted on their way to Clinton's New York home where she lives with former president Bill Clinton and to Washington, where Obama lives with his wife, Michelle. The Secret Service said neither package reached its intended recipient.
Watch Friday's full briefing from the attorney general and top law enforcement officials.