President Trump called the suspected mail bombs “terrorizing acts” and praised law enforcement officers for the arrest in Florida.
“We will prosecute them, him, her, whoever it may be, to the fullest extent of the law,” he said at a White House event. “We must never allow political violence to take root in America and I’m committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it and stop it now.”
Authorities had been pursuing a lead that some of the devices could have been mailed from South Florida. After news of the arrest broke, FBI agents and other law enforcement personnel could be seen in news footage draping a blue tarp over a van in a South Florida parking lot before loading it onto a truck and driving it away.
According to someone familiar with the investigation, the suspect in custody lives in Florida near a facility through which the packages were mailed. It remains unclear if he acted alone or had help, this person said.
News of the arrest emerged hours after investigators recovered the latest explosive devices, packages sent to Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.
The FBI said a package, “similar in appearance to the others” found this week, was addressed to Booker and located in Florida. A spokesman for Booker, a prominent Democrat and potential 2020 presidential candidate, declined to comment and referred questions to law enforcement.
Police in New York said they were responding to a suspicious package in midtown Manhattan, just blocks from where one of the explosive devices was found earlier this week at CNN’s offices in the Time Warner Center. The package was “safely removed” from the post office, police said.
A law enforcement official said that package was a device addressed to Clapper, a CNN contributor, and sent to him at the news network. This is the second time this week a suspected explosive was sent to CNN and addressed to a former intelligence official turned cable news commentator. A device sent to CNN’s New York offices and addressed to John Brennan, the former CIA director, was found in the mail room there, prompting an hours-long evacuation.
The package sent to Clapper was found at a mail-sorting facility in New York City, the law enforcement official said. CNN President Jeff Zucker sent a message to staffers confirming that a suspicious package addressed to CNN was intercepted at a post office, and he reiterated that “all mail to CNN domestic offices is being screened at off-site facilities.”
Clapper appeared on CNN shortly after news broke a package was addressed to him, saying he felt relief no one was harmed by that device.
“This is definitely domestic terrorism, no doubt about it in my mind,” he said. Clapper said anyone who has criticized Trump should take extra precautions when handling their mail, adding: “This is not going to silence the administration’s critics.”
Authorities had intensified their hunt for a serial mail bomber in recent days after suspected explosives were delivered to a string of political figures and others who have publicly clashed with Trump. On Thursday, the FBI said three suspected pipe bombs were found — one in actor Robert De Niro’s Manhattan office, and two in mail facilities in Delaware addressed to former vice president Joe Biden.
“I thank God no one’s been hurt, and I thank the brave and resourceful security and law enforcement people for protecting us,” De Niro said in a statement Friday before going on to urge people to vote.
The wave of packages began this week with an explosive device sent to George Soros, a billionaire activist known to fund pro-democracy and liberal political groups. Then came packages addressed to former president Barack Obama; former secretary of state Hillary Clinton; Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.); Eric Holder Jr., Obama’s first attorney general; and Brennan.
One of the packages was recovered at a South Florida office of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) because her name was listed as the return address. Current and former investigators have said this suggested she was a possible target of the attacks.
All of the bomber’s targets have clashed sharply with Trump at different times, and the spate of dangerous packages intensified the already full-throated political fights two weeks before congressional elections. Trump condemned the bombs on Wednesday before going on to blame the media for the anger seen in American society. He has also bristled at commentators who have highlighted his rhetoric when discussing the explosive devices, tweeting shortly after 3 a.m. Friday that CNN was “blaming me for the current spate of Bombs.”
The explosives prompted a sprawling, nationwide investigation. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking in Washington on Friday, pledged that local, state and federal authorities were “working tirelessly to follow every lead” in the case.
“I can tell you this, we will find the person or persons responsible and we’re going to bring them to justice,” Sessions said.
The packages sent to public figures had many of the hallmarks of suspicious mail, including large block lettering and excessive postage aimed at making it harder to track, said Matthew Doherty, who formerly led the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center. And the fact that none detonated provides investigators with considerable evidence, he said.
“There’s a rich treasure trove of forensic information since they were found intact,” Doherty said. That means FBI investigators can “look for patterns such as the device, the technical expertise, the method of mailing, a whole host of great, rich forensic evidence that can be gathered.”
Officials on Thursday declined to say whether the devices were intended to detonate or to scare people, but they repeatedly urged the public to view them as if they could pose a threat.
“We are treating them as live devices,” NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill said at a news briefing, urging people not to touch packages they deem suspicious. “This is something that should be taken seriously.”
Authorities pleaded with the public to send in any tips, and William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI New York field office, said people should remain vigilant, warning that more devices “have been or could be mailed.”
Law enforcement officials described the devices as PVC pipes stuffed with what appeared to be fireworks powder and glass. Electrical wires leading out of the pipe led to an electric timer taped to the pipe, according to law enforcement officials speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation.
The FBI said the packages found so far had shared characteristics, including manila envelopes with bubble-wrapped interiors. They all also had a half-dozen Forever stamps, computer-printed address labels and return addresses bearing the misspelled name of Wasserman Schultz, who chaired the Democratic National Committee during part of the 2016 presidential campaign.