Suspected bombs sent to Obama, Clinton, and CNN offices, officials say
The Secret Service said Wednesday that it had intercepted packages containing “potential explosive devices” addressed to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in New York and former president Barack Obama in Washington, while authorities also rushed to investigate a suspicious package sent to CNN’s headquarters.
The packages were discovered not long after an explosive device was found in a mailbox at the Bedford, New York, home of George Soros, the liberal philanthropist who is a frequent target of criticism from far-right groups. The devices sent to Clinton and Obama were found during screening and did not make it to them, officials said.
“The packages were immediately identified during routine mail screening procedures as potential explosive devices and were appropriately handled as such,” the Secret Service said in a statement Wednesday. “The protectees did not receive the packages nor were they at risk of receiving them.”
The devices found in Washington and New York — sent to the homes of former presidents and a cable news network — drew bipartisan condemnation across the capital and set off spasms of fear across the country, as security and law enforcement officers rushed to scour incoming mail for other potential undiscovered bombs.
The Secret Service said the package addressed to the Chappaqua, New York, home of Clinton and former president Bill Clinton was recovered late Tuesday. The package sent to Obama’s Washington home was intercepted early Wednesday, authorities said.
Both packages were intercepted by Secret Service personnel working at off-site facilities near their homes in New York and in Washington, according to a person familiar with their work. All mail and packages addressed to former presidents and their immediate family are pre-sorted and screened by Secret Service personnel.
An Obama representative referred questions to the Secret Service. Speaking in Florida on Wednesday, Clinton said her family was “fine, thanks to the men and women of the Secret Service who intercepted the package addressed to us long before it made its way to our home.”
She also spoke to the anger pulsing through American life, continuing: “It is a troubling time, isn’t it? It is a time of deep divisions, and we have to do everything we can to bring our country together.”
The devices sent to Clinton and Obama are suspected to be the work of the same person who sent a similar device to Soros earlier this week, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. The suspicious package sent to CNN appeared to be an explosive device sent from the same person as well, one of the officials said.
Based on the timing and the material, law enforcement officials suspect the same person is behind the devices sent to Soros, Clinton, Obama and CNN, and officials are scrambling to determine if any other such devices were sent to anyone.
Soros, an 88-year-old holocaust survivor, has funneled much of his fortune into liberal projects around the world, making him a frequent target of rhetoric on the right. Clinton and Obama have also long been the focus of considerable far-right anger, while CNN has repeatedly come under intense criticism from a range of figures on the right, including President Donald Trump.
Another law enforcement official said the packages sent to the public officials this week shared similar markings, and at least one of them had a return address from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D. Authorities do not believe she is involved, an official said. Law enforcement officials were also investigating a suspicious package sent to her. Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Top Republicans, including Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R, have sought for weeks now to cast the rising tide of public anger as actual acts of violence and a phenomenon to be laid at the feet of Democrats.
“I think we know who the culprits are here when it comes to the quality of discourse in the country, and it’s not coming from the Republican side of the aisle,” McConnell said in an Associated Press interview this month.
The contentious confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh prompted fierce and occasionally personal protests targeting Republican on Capitol Hill. GOP leaders chided Democratic leaders, including Clinton and former attorney general Eric H. Holder, for delivering remarks that they claimed encourage incivility and potential acts of violence.
But law enforcement has made arrests in recent incidents targeting members of both parties. A New York man was arrested in August for threatening two House Republican leaders; another New York man was arrested last week for threatening GOP senators over Kavanaugh’s nomination. In April, a California man pleaded guilty to threatening to kill Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. And a Florida man was arrested this month for posting threats on Facebook against Democrats and Republicans who opposed Kavanaugh. Earlier this month, a far-right group called the Proud Boys attacked left-wing protesters outside an Oct. 12 Republican Party event in Manhattan. New York police have since arrested several members of the group.
The devices sent to Clinton, Obama and Soros this week were all pipe bombs placed inside plain manila brown envelopes with the addresses typed on stickers, according to a law enforcement official. The official said those three devices appeared to be capable of exploding and causing injuries. Authorities urge anyone who receives a suspicious package to contact law enforcement, the official said.
The devices were sent out just months after a 23-year-old in the Austin, Texas, suburbs set off a string of package explosives in that region, killing two people and wounding several others. That bomber delivered some in person and sent others through the FedEx system, which enabled authorities to track him down.
CNN’s headquarters at the Time Warner Center in New York was also evacuated Wednesday morning due to a suspicious package found there. The network broadcast footage of its staffers outside on the Manhattan streets below, where anchor Jim Sciutto could be seen on a cellphone reporting that he was told a suspicious package was mailed to the CNN building.
Jeff Zucker, president of CNN, wrote in a letter to employees that the center was “evacuated out of an abundance of caution” after the package was found in the mailroom. He also told employees that CNN had checked on its other bureaus but found no other devices.
The New York Police Department said its officers were “investigating a suspicious package in Columbus Circle,” which is where the Time Warner Center is located. The NYPD was investigating the suspicious package at the network and working with federal partners on the investigations into what was sent to Obama, Clinton, Soros and CNN, according to a police official.
As part of that, the NYPD was increasing patrols at areas linked to those three people and inspecting packages sent to locations tied to them. The police were also increasing patrols at high-profile areas, including media locations, in New York City.
Chi Li, 28, who works at a technology company near CNN’s building, left to run an errand and came back to find the area closed off.
“I always think it’s so cool to be so close to CNN,” she said. “Maybe now everyone will stop calling them enemy of the people. ‘Fake news.'”
As investigators continued to explore the devices and their origins, White House officials and others in Washington decried the string of packages.
“We condemn the attempted violent attacks recently made against President Obama, President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, and other public figures,” Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement Wednesday morning. “These terrorizing acts are despicable, and anyone responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. The United States Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies are investigating and will take all appropriate actions to protect anyone threatened by these cowards.”
Vice President Mike Pence posted a similar condemnation, calling the devices “despicable” and saying that anyone “responsible will be brought to justice.” Trump chimed in after, writing: “I agree wholeheartedly!”
Suspicious letters and packages have been sent to numerous public figures, including President Trump’s children. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, tweeted: “As someone whose family has directly been the victim of these mail threats I condemn whoever did this regardless of party or ideology. This crap has to stop and I hope they end up in jail for a long time.”
A letter was sent to Trump Jr.’s home earlier this year that resulted in his wife going to the hospital. A man later pleaded guilty to sending threatening letters with white powder to Trump’s sons and other public figures.
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