Pipe bombs deepen political tensions
Washington – A wave of glass-filled pipe bombs targeting Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, other prominent Democrats and CNN was thwarted without physical harm, but an anxiety-filled day on Wednesday deepened political tensions and fears two weeks before national midterm elections.
None of the bombs detonated as law enforcement took them away for examination and disposal.
The first crude bomb to be discovered had been delivered Monday to the suburban New York compound of George Soros, a liberal billionaire and major contributor to Democratic causes. The FBI said an additional package was intended for former Attorney General Eric Holder, but that one ended up at a Florida office of Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose return address was on it.
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Later Wednesday, the FBI said two additional packages addressed for Rep. Maxine Waters had been intercepted that were similar in appearance to five others.
The targets of the bombs were some of the figures most frequently criticized by President Donald Trump, who still assails Clinton at rallies while supporters chant “lock her up” – two years after he defeated her and she largely left the political scene. Trump accuses Soros of paying protesters and singles out cable news network CNN as he rails against the “fake news” media.
He took a softer tone at a rally in Wisconsin Wednesday night.
“Let’s get along,” he said. “By the way, do you see how nice I’m behaving tonight? Have you ever seen this?”
The attacks overtook other news in an already-tense political season that could reshape Congress and serve as a referendum on the first two years of Trump’s presidency. The actions, which caused panicked building evacuations and reports of additional explosives that later proved unfounded, are bound to add to fears that overheated rhetoric could lead to deadly violence as the parties engage in bitter fights over immigration, the Supreme Court and the treatment of women.
The White House condemned the attacks aimed at Democrats and other perceived foes of the administration.
“Acts or threats of political violence have no place in the United States,” Trump said. “This egregious conduct is abhorrent.”
Other Republican leaders said the same. But Democratic Senate and House leaders Chuck Schumer of New York and Nancy Pelosi of California said such words “ring hollow” when coming from Trump. They noted the president’s recent praise of a GOP congressman who body-slammed a reporter, among other Trump statements.
Law enforcement officials said all the packages were similar: manila envelopes with bubble-wrap interior bearing six stamps and the return address of Florida Rep. Schultz. She is the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who was accused by Clinton rivals of secretly helping the party’s eventual presidential nominee.
The package intended for Holder had the wrong address and was forwarded to Wasserman Schultz.
The pipe bombs were packed with powder and shards of glass. The devices, each with a small battery, were made from PVC pipe about six inches long and covered with black tape, said a law enforcement official who viewed X-ray images and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
The devices all were sent to an FBI lab in Virginia to be studied. Officials provided no details on a possible suspect or motive.
“Suffice it to say, it appears an individual or individuals sent out multiple, similar packages,” said John Miller, the New York Police Department’s head of intelligence and counterterrorism, who briefed reporters.
The U.S. Secret Service intercepted a bomb that was addressed to Hillary Clinton at the Chappaqua, New York, home she shares with former President Bill Clinton, and another that was sent to Obama at his home in Washington.
A police bomb squad removed still another from CNN’s New York office, which was evacuated. The CNN package was addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan, who has publicly clashed with Trump and is a regular television contributor.
Speaking at an event in Austin, Texas, Brennan called the spate of pipe bombs “an unfortunate turn of events,” particularly if he and others are being targeted for their public comments.
“Unfortunately, I think Donald Trump, too often, has helped to incite some of these feelings of anger, if not violence, when he points to acts of violence or also talks about swinging at somebody from the press, the media,” Brennan said.
Overhead TV shots showed a truck carrying that device being driven away. The package sent to CNN contained a live explosive, with wires and a black pipe, and an envelope with white powder, officials said. The powder was tested and determined to have been harmless, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill says investigators are reviewing security video to see if they can identify a courier believed to have delivered the pipe bomb package to CNN’s office. O’Neill said in an appearance on CNN that he was “pretty sure those images will be caught on video and we’ll be able to find out where that person came from before they entered the building and where they went to after.”
Waters, whom the president has denigrated as a “low-IQ individual,” reported Wednesday afternoon that she was the target of a suspicious target. Though the FBI did not initially include her on a list of targeted individuals, the bureau later said two packages addressed to her and similar to the five others had been found. One was intercepted at a Los Angeles mail facility.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his office received a similar package, but New York police officials said the office was cleared and no device was found.
Cuomo said at a briefing that “we will not allow these terrorist thugs to change the way we live our lives.”
Neither Clinton nor Obama received the packages sent to them, and neither was at risk because of screening procedures, the Secret Service said.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement, “These terrorizing acts are despicable, and anyone responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
But while stopping short of blaming Trump’s rhetoric for inspiring the attacks, Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN Worldwide, contended there was a “total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media.”
“The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that,” he said.
Hillary Clinton was attending campaign events for Democrats in Florida and was not at the family’s New York residence when the bomb was intercepted. But Bill Clinton was at the family’s Chappaqua home, said a person familiar with his schedule. The person said the device was screened at a Westchester County facility – not near their residence – and never reached the Clintons’ home.
A law enforcement official told the AP that the package discovered at Soros’ home appeared to be a pipe bomb and was in a package placed in a mailbox outside the gates of the compound. A Soros employee opened it just inside the gates, not near Soros’ quarters, said the official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas, Jill Colvin and Chad Day in Washington and Mike Sisak, Jim Mustian, Deepti Hajela and Tom Hays in New York contributed to this report.