NEW YORK — A Florida man pleaded guilty Thursday to sending pipe bombs to CNN and prominent critics of President Donald Trump in a wave of attacks that harmed no one but spread fear of political violence across the U.S. for days leading up to last fall’s midterm elections.
Cesar Sayoc, 57, sobbed as he entered the plea before a federal judge in New York.
“I’m extremely sorry,” he said, adding that he never intended for the devices to explode.
He could get life in prison at sentencing Sept. 12 on 65 counts, including using weapons of mass destruction and mailing explosives with intent to kill. In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors dropped a charge that carried a mandatory life sentence.
Sayoc sent rudimentary bombs — none of which detonated — to 16 targets, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Joe Biden, several members of Congress, former President Barack Obama and actor Robert De Niro. Devices were also mailed to CNN offices in New York and Atlanta.
The bombs began turning up weeks before the hotly contested midterms, contributing to an already tense political environment.
Sayoc was arrested in late October at a Florida auto parts store. He had been living in a van plastered with Trump stickers and images of Trump opponents with crosshairs over their faces.
On Thursday, he told the judge he made objects designed to look like pipe bombs and filled them with explosive powder from fireworks.
“Did you intend they would explode?” U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff asked.
“No, sir,” Sayoc said.
“What would prevent powder from fireworks from exploding?” Rakoff asked.
“I was aware of the risk they would explode,” Sayoc said.
The first of the bombs was discovered Oct. 22 in a mailbox at an estate in New York City’s northern suburbs owned by the billionaire George Soros, a liberal political activist and frequent subject of conspiracy theories.
A device addressed to the Clintons was discovered the following day, followed a day later by a slew of bombs found at the homes or offices of prominent Democrats. One, addressed to former CIA director John Brennan, was sent to CNN in New York.
Others targeted included California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.
Over several days, investigators tracked the packages to a mail center in Florida. Prosecutors said the evidence against Sayoc included DNA that linked him to 10 of the devices and fingerprints on two of them.