Pipe bombs were sent to Barack Obama, other top Democrats and CNN — all hate figures for backers of President Donald Trump — in a coordinated “effort to terrorize” days before polarizing US elections, officials said Wednesday.
Hillary Clinton was among some of America’s most high-profile Democrats targeted with the country bitterly divided ahead of November 6 elections seen as a referendum on the Republican Trump.
CNN is well known for its robust coverage of the Trump administration and is routinely condemned by the president, who succeeded Obama and defeated Clinton in 2016. Signs at his rallies condemn the network.
The spree of bomb alerts was kicked off Monday with a device found at the New York home of billionaire liberal donor George Soros. “So far the devices have been what appear to be pipe bombs,” said FBI agent Bryan Paarmann.
“It appears that an individual or individuals sent out multiple similar packages,” he added, in what appeared to be a coordinated effort.
Another suspicious device was sent to the Manhattan office of New York’s Democratic state Governor Andrew Cuomo. In Florida, police also investigated a suspicious package near the office of a Democrat lawmaker, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. In California, suspicious packages provoked a false alarm at the offices of rising Democratic star, US Senator Kamala Harris.
The White House swiftly condemned the attempted attacks.
“These terrorizing acts are despicable, and anyone responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” said Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, adding that Trump and his administration were “monitoring closely.”
Trump himself confined his remarks to retweeting a condemnation from Vice President Mike Pence against the “cowardly” acts, adding: “I agree wholeheartedly!”
– ‘Atmosphere of hatred’ –
CNN evacuated its New York bureau Wednesday after the pipe bomb together with an envelope containing white powder was found in the mailroom. A bomb squad secured the device and removed it for investigation, police said.
The packaging was addressed care of CNN to former CIA director John Brennan, who has worked as a television analyst but not for the channel.
The Secret Service recovered the package addressed to Clinton at the home she shares with her husband, former president Bill Clinton, in Chappaqua, north of Manhattan on Tuesday, as well as a second package addressed to the Obama residence in Washington on Wednesday.
Clinton, speaking in Miami, thanked the Secret Service for intercepting the package and raised concerns about what she called a “troubling time” in America.
“It’s a time of deep divisions, and we have to do everything we can to bring our country together,” she said.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio condemned “an effort to terrorize” as he and fellow Democrat Cuomo appealed to all elected officials, including a veiled reference to the US president, to tone down rhetoric.
“Don’t encourage violence, don’t encourage hatred, don’t encourage attacks on media,” said the mayor. The Republican president came under a torrent of criticism for recently endorsing the body slamming of a reporter.
“Unfortunately this atmosphere of hatred is contributing to the choices people are making,” said de Blasio. “The way to stop that is turn back the other way, to bring down the temperature, to end any messages of violence against people we disagree with and this has to start at the top.”
There has been no claim of responsibility and no one was yet thought to have been arrested.
– ‘Domestic terrorism’ –
The Secret Service said the packages were “immediately identified during routine mail screening procedures” and that neither Clinton or Obama were ever at risk of receiving them.
Republican lawmakers quickly followed the White House in issuing condemnations, just over a year after a shooter angry about Trump shot four people at a congressional baseball practice near Washington.
“Violence and terror have no place in our politics or anywhere else,” tweeted senior Republican lawmaker Steve Scalise, who was shot and seriously injured at the baseball practice in June 2017.
The top Republican lawmaker, Mitch McConnell, condemned what he called “attempted acts of domestic terrorism”.
Soros, the target of the first device, has long been a hate figure for right-wing groups and lives in Bedford, New York, not far from the Clintons.
The 88-year-old hedge fund tycoon is one of the world’s richest men with an estimated net worth of $8.3 billion and a prominent philanthropist.
Soros supported Clinton, Trump’s election rival in 2016, and has been accused by nationalists the world over of sponsoring protests and seeking to push a liberal, multicultural agenda.
Earlier this month, Trump accused Soros of paying demonstrators to protest against the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of attempted rape in high school.
Soros has also been falsely accused of funding the caravan of migrants moving north from Honduras through Mexico en route to the US border.