WASHINGTON — The U.S. Secret Service said Wednesday it had intercepted suspicious packages believed to be bombs addressed to the New York residence of former first lady Hillary Clinton and the Washington home of former President Barack Obama.
Security staffers on Tuesday also found envelopes with bomb-like devices sent to CNN’s New York studios, former Attorney General Eric Holder, and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. A similar device was found Monday at the New York compound of liberal billionaire George Soros, a major contributor to Democratic causes.
None of the bombs detonated Wednesday as law enforcement took them away for examination and disposal.
The White House quickly condemned the attacks aimed at Democrats and perceived foes of the administration. President Donald Trump frequently lambastes CNN for “fake news” and has denigrated Waters as a “low-I.Q.” individual. Holder is considered a likely Democratic contender for president in 2020.
At a previously scheduled bill-signing Wednesday, Trump told a bipartisan gathering that “in these times, we have to unify, we have to come together and send one very clear, strong unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.”
All the confirmed bombs appeared to come from the same person or persons, said John Miller, the New York Police Department’s head of intelligence and counterterrorism, who briefed reporters in New York.
Law enforcement officials said all the packages were similar: manila envelopes with bubble-wrap interior bearing six stamps and the return address of “Debbie Wasserman Shultz,” a misspelling of the Florida congresswoman’s name. Schultz, D-Fla., is the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who was accused by Clinton rivals of secretly helping the party’s eventual presidential nominee in 2016.
The package sent to Holder had an incorrect address so it was sent back to the return address on the envelope, a Florida district office for Schultz.
‘An act of terror’
The device sent to CNN was addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan, a frequent Trump critic who is an analyst for MSNBC and NBC News. The Time Warner Center building that houses CNN was evacuated and anchors broadcast the story from a sidewalk at Columbus Circle.
New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio did not hesitate to call the targeting of CNN “clearly an act of terror.”
Neither Clinton nor Obama received the packages, and neither was at risk of receiving them because of screening procedures, the Secret Service said.
“We will not rest until we stop these hazardous devices from being mailed and bring the individual or individuals to justice,” said Bryan Paarmann, the FBI’s top counterterrorism official in New York.
While stopping short of blaming Trump’s rhetoric for inspiring the attacks, CNN President Jeff Zucker issued a statement in which he took the president to task for “continued attacks on the media. The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand their words matter.”
On Twitter and in his comments in the East Room, Trump did not recognize any role his harsh rhetoric may have played in motivating whoever sent the devices.
Following Trump’s remarks, however, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement in which they said, “Trump’s words ring hollow until he reverses his statements that condone acts of violence.”
The statement cited Trump’s support of a Republican congressman from Montana who body slammed a reporter, for neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, and “dictators around the world who murder their own citizens.” They also cited his frequent references to the press as “the enemy of the people.”
Clinton found herself in similar territory. In Florida campaigning for Democratic candidates, the former secretary of state noted, “It is a time of deep divisions. We have to do everything we can to bring our country together.”
Earlier this month, however, Clinton said, “You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.”
Allies push back
Trump’s allies pushed back on the suggestion that he contributes to a toxic political atmosphere.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said: “I don’t see anything really wrong with the president. He’s in a tough position, attacked on all sides, and he ought to be able to express himself.”
Republicans also condemned the suspicious devices.
House Speaker Paul Ryan denounced the “reprehensible acts” as an “attempt to terrorize public figures.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “domestic terrorism.”
Conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh argued that the storyline that conservatives were targeting Democrats didn’t pass the smell test. “Republicans don’t act in this manner,” he said.
Retired FBI Agent Andy Arena, who teaches at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, said he believes that investigators will benefit from having access to the unexploded devices. As the head of the FBI bureau in Detroit, he oversaw an investigation where agents were able to track the components of an unexploded bomb left at a federal building.
“To me, the political rhetoric, there’s no place for that right now,” Arena said. “There’s somebody out there doing this and somebody could get hurt. Let’s figure that out first.”