Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With
UPDATE: A suspect has been arrested and is in FBI custody. The full criminal complaint is available here.
A lot of people are getting ahead of the facts concerning the spree of explosive devices sent to political figures over the past few days. People are speculating about the would-be-bomber’s motive. On the political right, speculation is rife of a “false flag” operation. On the political left, commentators are already blaming President Trump. Nobody commenting publicly actually knows who is responsible for the bombs. And several initial reports turned out not to be accurate. The facts are sketchy and developing; here is what we actually know so far—mostly in the form of links to official statements and confirmed reports. (Note: We will continue to update this story as it develops.)
On Monday, Oct. 22, a explosive device, later described as a “pipe bomb,” was delivered to George Soros’s home in Westchester County, N.Y. The U.S. Secret Service announced on the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 24, that it had intercepted two other suspicious packages, one addressed former Secretary of State and Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton—also in Westchester County, N.Y.— and the other addressed to the residence of former president Barack Obama. The Secret Service statement reads in its entirety:
WASHINGTON---The U.S. Secret Service has intercepted two suspicious packages addressed to Secret Service protectees.
Late on October 23, 2018, the Secret Service recovered a single package addressed to Former First Lady Hillary Clinton in Westchester County, New York. Early this morning, October 24, 2018, a second package addressed to the residence of Former President Barack Obama was intercepted by Secret Service personnel in Washington, DC.
The packages were immediately identified during routine mail screening procedures as potential explosive devices and were appropriately handled as such. Both packages were intercepted prior to being delivered to their intended location. The protectees did not receive the packages nor were they at risk of receiving them.
The Secret Service has initiated a full scope criminal investigation that will leverage all available federal, state, and local resources to determine the source of the packages and identify those responsible.
Also on Wednesday, CNN’s New York City office was evacuated following the discovery of an explosive device in the mailroom. The device sent to CNN was addressed to former CIA director John Brennan, the FBI later said. Brennan is a contributor for MSNBC, and does not work for CNN.
According to a New York Police Department (NYPD) press briefing held Wednesday afternoon, the package sent to CNN contained a live explosive and unidentified white powder. The explosive was sent to a range in the Bronx, where it will be rendered deliverable to the FBI for further analysis. The full briefing is available here:
Another suspicious package was found at the office of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Sunrise, Fl. Wasserman Schultz is also a former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. It was later reported that the package sent to Wasserman Schultz was actually addressed to former Attorney General Eric Holder, and Wasserman Schultz’s Sunrise office was listed as the return address. The package was returned because of an error in Holder’s address. The Sunrise office was also used as the return address for the bomb sent to CNN. A suspicious package was also discovered at the congressional mail screening facility in Capitol Heights, Md. That package was reportedly addressed to Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, according to the New York Times. Later on Wednesday evening, the Los Angeles Times reported that a second package addressed to Rep. Waters was found at a mail facility in South Los Angeles.
Multiple news outlets, including the AP, reported that an additional suspicious package addressed to actor Robert De Niro in Manhattan was recovered by authorities on Thursday morning. Two packages addressed to former Vice President Joe Biden were also reportedly intercepted in Delaware, at mail facilities in New Castle and Wilmington. The FBI announced Friday morning that an eleventh package was discovered in Florida—this suspicious package was addressed to Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. Moments later, reports emerged that the New York Police Department had intercepted a twelfth package, which was sent to CNN's Manhattan office and addressed to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Unlike Brennan, Clapper is a CNN contributor.
There were also three false-alarm stories on Wednesday connected with the string of explosive packages. On Wednesday morning, major news outlets, CNN among them, reported that a suspicious package was also sent to the White House. The Secret Service later refuted this claim.
CLARIFICATION: At this time the Secret Service has intercepted TWO suspicious packages - one in NY and one in D.C. Reports of a third intercepted package addressed to the WH are incorrect. We refer media to our statement: https://t.co/lJdTn04KmI— U.S. Secret Service (@SecretService) October 24, 2018
Suspicious packages left outside a San Diego, Calif. office building— housing the San Diego Tribune and office of Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris—prompted an evacuation of the building. However, the boxes were found to contain only discarded household items. During the New York Police Department briefing, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated that a suspicious device had been sent to his office as well—though law enforcement officials later confirmed it was unrelated to the bombs.
Analysis of information on the packages collected by the U.S. Postal Service have led investigators to focus on southern Florida, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
Wednesday late afternoon, the FBI national press office released a statement confirming that packages that were similar in appearance and contained “potentially destructive devices” were sent to George Soros; Hillary Clinton; Barack Obama; Eric Holder; and John Brennan, care of CNN. The return address on these packages was from “DEBBIE WASSERMAN SHULTZ” [sic] in Florida. The statement also confirmed that the package addressed to Holder was misaddressed and then send to Rep. Schulz’s office in Florida. The statement reads as follows:
Between October 22 and 24, 2018, suspicious packages were received at multiple locations in the New York and Washington, D.C., areas and Florida. The packages are being sent for analysis at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.
“This investigation is of the highest priority for the FBI. We have committed the full strength of the FBI’s resources and, together with our partners on our Joint Terrorism Task Forces, we will continue to work to identify and arrest whoever is responsible for sending these packages,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “We ask anyone who may have information to contact the FBI. Do not hesitate to call; no piece of information is too small to help us in this investigation.”
The packages are similar in appearance, as depicted in the below photograph, and contain potentially destructive devices.
Exterior of one of the suspicious packages. Addresses have been removed to protect privacy.
The packages were mailed in manila envelopes with bubble wrap interior. The packages were affixed with computer-printed address labels and six Forever stamps. All packages had a return address of “DEBBIE WASSERMAN SHULTZ” [sic] in Florida. Packages identified to date were addressed to:
- George Soros
- Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
- Former President Barack Obama
- Former CIA Director John Brennan, care of CNN
- Former Attorney General Eric Holder
The package addressed to former Attorney General Holder did not reach its intended destination, but was rerouted to the return address in Florida.
The FBI will continue to work with our federal law enforcement partners at the United States Secret Service, United States Postal Inspection Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as our state and local law enforcement partners, to identify and arrest the person or people responsible for sending these packages.
It is possible that additional packages were mailed to other locations. The FBI advises the public to remain vigilant and not touch, move or handle any suspicious or unknown packages.
If you have information about these packages, please contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or tips.fbi.gov. If you observe any suspicious activity that requires an immediate response, please call 911 or contact your local law enforcement.
On Wednesday evening, the FBI announced the identification of two additional suspicious packages sent to Maxine Waters:
In addition to the five packages referenced in our earlier statement, we have now confirmed two additional packages, both addressed to Rep. Maxine Waters, that are similar in appearance.— FBI (@FBI) October 24, 2018
The FBI also confirmed on Thursday that packages were sent to De Niro and Biden:
The #FBI has confirmed three additional packages, similar in appearance to the others – one in New York addressed to Robert DeNiro, and two in Delaware addressed to former Vice President Joseph Biden.— FBI (@FBI) October 25, 2018
The New York Police Department, in conjunction with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, the FBI, ATF and the U.S. Postal Inspection Services, held a second press conference on Thursday. Officials stressed that there was no active, credible threats against New Yorkers and to alert the police to anything unusual. The full briefing is available here:
The FBI confirmed Friday morning that a package addressed to Sen. Booker had been intercepted in Florida:
The #FBI has confirmed an 11th package has been recovered in Florida, similar in appearance to the others, addressed to Sen. Cory Booker.— FBI (@FBI) October 26, 2018
We are responding to a report of a suspicious package in the vicinity of West 52nd Street and 8th Avenue, #Manhattan. Please avoid the area and expect a police presence and heavy traffic. More information to follow. pic.twitter.com/fygm9IvS63— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) October 26, 2018
Update: The package has been safely removed from the @USPS Office on West 52 St. Expect a heavy police presence and residual traffic in the area as we continue our investigation with our law enforcement partners.— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) October 26, 2018
Reactions to the Attempted Attacks
In response to the reports, Vice President Mike Pence tweeted:
We condemn the attempted attacks against fmr Pres Obama, the Clintons, @CNN & others. These cowardly actions are despicable & have no place in this Country. Grateful for swift response of @SecretService, @FBI & local law enforcement. Those responsible will be brought to justice.— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) October 24, 2018
A few minutes later, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted the following on behalf of the administration:
Statement on suspicious packages: pic.twitter.com/pYSbDvCvuk— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) October 24, 2018
President Trump followed the statement with an endorsement of Pence’s original tweet:
I agree wholeheartedly! https://t.co/ndzu0A30vU— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2018
Later in the day, Trump denounced the attempted bombings, calling them, “despicable acts,” and calling for unity and for the American people to, “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.” A portion of the president’s remarks, made during a planned event related to the opioid crisis, was posted on Twitter:
The safety of the American People is my highest priority. I have just concluded a briefing with the FBI, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Secret Service... pic.twitter.com/nEUBcq4NOh— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2018
Given the president’s persistent attacks on the media, including CNN specifically, some commentators were critical of his response to the attempted attacks. Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, released the following statement shortly after the president’s address:
Statement from CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker: pic.twitter.com/OXyIT6oSLT— CNN Communications (@CNNPR) October 24, 2018
Meanwhile, Bill and Hillary Clinton both stated their appreciation for the Secret Service; their daughter Chelsea Clinton also tweeted a note of thanks to the Secret Service. George Soros’s son, Alexander Soros, wrote a piece in the New York Times, saying that, “While the responsibility lies with the individual or individuals who sent these lethal devices to my family home and Mr. Obama’s and Ms. Clinton’s offices, I cannot see it divorced from the new normal of political demonization that plagues us today.” Waters responded on Thursday to the threats in a video message on Blavity. She noted that she was not intimidated and criticized the president’s rhetoric, saying: "I think the president of United States should take responsibility for the kind of violence that we are seeing for the first time in different ways." As of this writing, other targeted individuals have not commented.
This article was updated at 3:02pm on October 26, 2018.