Feds Charge Florida Man With Mailing Improvised Bombs To Trump Political Critics
Updated at 3:03 p.m. ET
The Justice Department charged a Florida man on Friday in connection with a wave of improvised explosive devices sent to political critics of President Trump.
Cesar Altieri Sayoc, 56, is facing five federal charges after he was arrested in Plantation, Fla., following a national investigation. He faces a potential total of 58 years in prison.
The homemade bombs intercepted or discovered this week “are not hoax devices,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. They contained “energetic materials” packed into PVC pipes and could have been dangerous, he said, although none of them exploded and no one was hurt.
FBI and other investigators surrounded a white van believed to be connected to the case in a parking lot in Plantation; their inspection was shown live on cable TV and the van was loaded onto a flatbed truck.
Trump hailed law enforcement agencies in a statement at the White House and condemned the prospective threats to political leaders.
“These terrorizing acts are despicable and have no place in our country,” he said. “We must never allow political violence to take root in America. We cannot let it happen.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions echoed the president in a news conference at the Justice Department on Friday afternoon.
“We will not tolerate such lawlessness, especially not political violence,” he said.
More suspicious packages
The announcement followed the discovery Friday of more packages bound for political foes of President Trump.
One parcel that resembled the earlier envelopes in the case was discovered in Sacramento, Calif., addressed to Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, said a spokesman for the sheriff’s office there. One was discovered in Florida addressed to Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and one in New York City to former intelligence boss James Clapper.
The recovery of those envelopes brought the known total to 13 parcels addressed to 11 targets, all of whom are critics or opponents of the president.
None of the suspicious devices included in the envelopes has exploded, and so far no one has been hurt.
Federal authorities have acknowledged that they don’t know how many total packages there are and that there could be more moving through the mail as the search continues both for the devices and for the person or people who sent them.
Clapper, who is a commentator on CNN, appeared on air to say, “This is definitely domestic terrorism. No question about it in my mind.”
Although the homemade pipe bombs have not exploded, authorities say they are treating them as “live devices,” not “hoax devices,” New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill said Thursday.
Authorities who have discovered the parcels around the country — in New York, outside Washington, D.C., in Florida and in Los Angeles — are sending them to the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Va., for examination there.
The Sunshine State
At least one of the packages passed through a large U.S. mail sorting facility in Opa-locka, Fla., near Miami, according to multiple reports.
The Miami Herald, citing a federal law enforcement official familiar with the investigation, reports that the package sent from the facility is likely the one that ended up on Wednesday at the South Florida office of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
That package was originally sent to the office of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. It was not delivered and was instead sent to the labeled return address — listed as Wasserman Schultz’s office.
Before the package arrived there, the Herald reports it was rerouted through the Opa-locka mail sorting facility.
Federal agents and the Miami-Dade County Police Department searched the facility on Thursday night, according to reports from the Herald, Reuters and The Associated Press. No potentially explosive devices were found, according to reports.
“A search of a postal database suggested at least some may have been mailed from Florida,” the AP reports.
Hundreds of thousands of packages pour into the facility every day — it’s the size of five football fields, the Herald reports. Miami-Dade Police Department specialists worked at the mail center on Friday morning, the agency said.
The packages began to show up on Monday, starting with billionaire George Soros, a major donor to Democrats and Democratic causes.
In addition to Booker, Clapper and Brennan, one package has been addressed to former President Barack Obama, two to former Vice President Joe Biden, one to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, one to former Attorney General Eric Holder and two to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. One was also addressed to the actor Robert De Niro, a harsh Trump critic.
De Niro included a political call-out in his statement about the packages on Friday morning.
“I thank God no one’s been hurt, and I thank the brave and resourceful security and law enforcement people for protecting us,” he said. “There’s something more powerful than bombs, and that’s your vote. People must vote!”
Trump sounded the same note when he addressed the parcel attacks Friday morning on Twitter.
Trump’s use of sarcasm quotes around “bomb” appeared to be an allusion to skepticism voiced by some former investigators and explosives specialists about the devices. As one expert told NPR, the apparently homemade devices look like they might include hazardous materials but not as though they could explode.
Authorities say they’re treating the devices as potentially “live” and one of them has been protectively destroyed by an explosive ordnance disposal team in New York.
A wide investigation remains ongoing, with the FBI, the Postal Service and other federal agencies working with state and local authorities.
Sign Up For 90.7 WMFE's Newsletter
Catch up on the latest Central Florida news and get updates on programs, events and more.SUBSCRIBE