Mail-bomb scare widens as packages to Biden, De Niro seized
WASHINGTON (AP) — The mail-bomb scare widened Thursday as law enforcement officials seized three more suspicious packages — two addressed to former Vice President Joe Biden and one to actor Robert De Niro — as part of a sprawling investigation into a plot that appears to be aimed at targets of conservative anger.
The new devices were described as similar to crude pipe bombs sent to former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and CNN. They brought to at least 10 the number of suspicious packages intercepted by authorities this week. Each was addressed to a prominent critic of President Donald Trump.
Much was publicly unknown about the devices, including how they were delivered and why none had exploded. Authorities have said nothing about possible motives or suspects. Details suggest only a broad pattern — that the items were packaged in manila envelopes and addressed to prominent Democrats. Some were discovered in mail processing facilities.
The packages heightened nationwide tensions and fears two weeks before major congressional midterm elections. Even with the sender still unknown, politicians from both parties used the moment to decry a toxic political climate and lay blame.
“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 in a morning Tweet. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”
Former CIA Director John Brennan, the target of one package sent to CNN, fired back.
“Stop blaming others. Look in the mirror,” Brennan tweeted. “Your inflammatory rhetoric, insults, lies, & encouragement of physical violence are disgraceful. Clean up your act….try to act Presidential.”
The list of bombing targets spread from New York, Delaware and Washington, D.C., to Florida and California.
The explosive devices were packed in envelopes with bubble-wrap interiors bearing six stamps and the return address of Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who was accused by Clinton rivals of secretly helping the party’s eventual presidential nominee.
The bombs seized Wednesday, each with a small battery, were about six inches 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 packages discovered Thursday set off a new wave of alarm.
Two officials told The Associated Press that a person working at De Niro’s Manhattan office called police after seeing images of a package bomb sent to CNN and recalling a similar package addressed to the actor. De Niro’s office is located in the TriBeCa Film Center in lower Manhattan, and also includes an upscale restaurant and private screening room.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the packages were “clearly an effort to terrorize people politically, to choose people for political purposes and attack them because of their beliefs.”
The packages addressed to Biden were intercepted at Delaware mail facilities in New Castle and Wilmington, according to a law enforcement official who, like others, wasn’t authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Like earlier targets, both Biden and De Niro have been sharply critical of Trump. The actor dropped an expletive insult at Trump at this year’s Tony Awards and also apologized to Canadians for the “idiotic behavior of my president.” Biden said last week that the president may not “know what he’s doing” and coddles dictators.
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. Soros has called Trump’s presidency “dangerous.”
Similar packages addressed to Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama were intercepted on their way to Chappaqua, New York, where Clinton lives with former President Bill Clinton and to Washington, where Obama lives with his wife, Michelle. The Secret Service said neither package reached their recipients.
More were sent to frequent Trump critics Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California and former Attorney General Eric Holder. His ended up at the Florida office of Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was listed as the return address.
A police bomb squad removed the package addressed to Brennan from CNN’s New York office, which was evacuated.
As the scope of the attack became clearer Wednesday, Trump decried political violence during a scripted event in the White House East Room and other members of the administration said it has no place in American society.
Later at a rally in Wisconsin, he urged unity.
“Let’s get along,” he said. “By the way, do you see how nice I’m behaving tonight? Have you ever seen this?”
But at the same event, he blamed the media and on Twitter Thursday kept up the argument that the media plays a role.
“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.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders sought to draw a distinction between words and deeds.
“There is a big difference between comments made and actions taken,” she told reporters. “The president is certainly not responsible for sending suspicious packages to someone no more than Bernie Sanders was responsible for a supporter of his shooting up a Republican baseball field practice last year.”
James T. Hodgkinson, 66, was shot and killed by police after he opened fire on congressional Republicans practicing for their annual charity baseball game against Democrats in 2017. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House majority whip, was struck in the hip and badly wounded.
Hodgkinson’s widow said he had been a supporter of Bernie Sanders in 2016.
Sisak reported from New York. Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Colleen Long, Ken Thomas, Jill Colvin and Chad Day in Washington and Jim Mustian, Deepti Hajela and Tom Hays in New York contributed to this report.