At least nine public figures, most of them prominent Democrats, have been targeted this week by packages containing “potentially destructive devices.”
The packages, discovered earlier this week, were all wrapped with bubble wrap and mailed in manila envelopes that had “computer-printed address labels and six Forever stamps,” according to the FBI.
Each of the packages included a return address of “DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ,” a Democratic Congresswoman from Florida. As of Thursday, investigators have identified packages intended for liberal philanthropist George Soros, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, former CIA Director John Brennan (via CNN’s New York offices), former Attorney General Eric Holder, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, former Vice President Joe Biden, and actor Robert de Niro. All have been critical of President Donald Trump.
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 packages were intercepted by federal investigators before they reached the intended recipients and no one has been harmed, but the FBI said additional suspicious packages may exist.
“This investigation is of the highest priority for the FBI,” the agency’s director Christopher Wray said in a statement. “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.”
Here’s what we know about these packages and the investigations into their origins.
How many packages are there and where were they sent?
The first explosive package was found Monday at the mailbox of Soros’ home in suburban New York.
Early Wednesday, the Secret Service said it had identified two packages containing “potential explosive devices” in the previous 24 hours:
- Late Tuesday, one intercepted package was addressed to Clinton in Westchester County, New York.
- On Wednesday morning, a second package, addressed to Obama, was retrieved in Washington, D.C.
The Secret Service said its agents intercepted both packages after they were identified during “routine mail screening procedures.” As such, neither person physically received the packages and weren’t at risk.
There were also media reports of a third suspicious package sent to the White House, but the Secret Service later said on Twitter that they were “incorrect.”
Soon after, the New York Police Department announced it was also investigating a suspicious package in Columbus Circle, home to the Time Warner Center, which includes the offices of CNN. The news organization reported mid-broadcast that the news organization’s offices in New York were evacuated because of a suspicious package. It wasn’t immediately clear then whether the package received in the building’s mailroom was connected to the others.
.@jimsciutto and @PoppyHarlowCNN were anchoring when CNN was evacuated people had to leave very quickly so DC bureau took over – they’re now up on their phones but being pushed down the street by authorities pic.twitter.com/o2eVAEl9EQ
— Hadas Gold (@Hadas_Gold) October 24, 2018
CNN chief Jeff Zucker said in a statement that no additional devices have been found in CNN’s other bureaus worldwide.
By Wednesday afternoon, it became apparent to federal investigators that the suspicious packages shared similarities despite being separately received in multiple different locations.
“We are extremely angry, upset, unhappy about what we witnessed this morning, and we will get to the bottom of it,” President Donald Trump said from the White House.
In a briefing later Wednesday, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said along with the “live explosive device” sent to CNN, investigators also discovered an envelope containing white powder. Investigators plan on testing the powder.
“What we saw here today was an effort to terrorize,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters. The mayor added that there was no other threat to the building that includes CNN’s offices.
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials held a briefing to update reporters about the suspicious package that was sent to CNN’s NYC offices. Video by PBS NewsHour
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also said his office in Manhattan received a suspicious device. Shortly after that announcement, NYPD officials determined the package was not a threat and was not related to the packages sent to other officials.
“A preliminary investigation on the package at Governor Cuomo’s office shows it is computer files on the hate group, The Proud Boys, who recently appeared in New York,” a spokesman for Cuomo’s office said in a statement.
However, as the day went on, more suspicious packages were reported.
Wasserman Schultz said in a statement that her Florida office was evacuated because of a suspicious package. Officials would later say that the Democrat’s name was used on all of the packages in question.
The FBI said the package addressed to Holder did not reach him, but was instead rerouted to the return address on the envelope, which had Wasserman Schultz’s name.
“This appalling attack on our democracy must be vigorously prosecuted, and I am deeply disturbed by the way my name was used,” she said in a statement.
Rep. Maxine Waters said in a statement that her D.C. office was the target of a suspicious package. The California Democrat said U.S. Capitol Police informed her of this development. FBI officials said a second package intended for Waters was intercepted in California.
On Thursday, officials intercepted two additional packages addressed to Biden and de Niro. The package addressed to Biden was recovered from a mail facility in Delaware, while the one intended for de Niro was recovered in Manhattan.
At a fundraiser Wednesday afternoon for Democratic congressional candidate Donna Shalala in Florida, Clinton thanked Secret Service agents for intercepting the package addressed to her before it made its way to her family’s home.
During a Democratic fundraiser, Hillary Clinton addressed the news of the intercepted packages. Video by PBS NewsHour
“Every day, we are grateful for their service and commitment and obviously never more than today,” Clinton said. “But it is a troubling time, isn’t it? It’s a time of deep divisions, and we have to do everything we can to bring our country together.”
Who sent the packages?
NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller told reporters Wednesday that it appeared that “an individual or individuals sent out multiple, similar packages.” However, authorities have yet to attribute the packages to specific individuals or groups.
No arrests have been made.
FBI said all of the packages will be analyzed at a laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.
Soros, a billionaire and prominent donor to Democratic candidates and causes, has long been the target of right-wing conspiracy theories, including one recently amplified by Trump on his Twitter account.
What do the packages contain?
Initially, details on the packages themselves were thin. With the FBI’s update Wednesday afternoon, officials listed several similarities: the manila envelopes, the same return address, and public figures as the intended recipients.
The New York Times reported that the device sent to Soros was “constructed from a length of pipe about six inches long filled with explosive powder,” the newspaper reported.
NYPD’s Miller later said at a briefing that the packages appeared to contain black pipe bombs.
How has the White House responded?
The White House condemned the packages in a statement, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders calling the act “despicable.”
“We condemn the attempted violent attacks recently made against President Obama, President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, and other public figures. These terrorizing acts are despicable, and anyone responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. The United States Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies are investigating and will take all appropriate actions to protect anyone threatened by these cowards,” she said in a statement.
Vice President Mike Pence said on Twitter that the “cowardly actions are despicable” and didn’t have a place in this country. He added that he was “grateful” for a swift response from federal investigators and that those behind the packages “will be brought to justice.”
I agree wholeheartedly! https://t.co/ndzu0A30vU
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2018
Trump responded to Pence’s tweet, saying, “I agree wholeheartedly!”
Before a scheduled White House event on the opioid epidemic, first lady Melania Trump briefly addressed the packages, calling them “cowardly attacks.”
At the same event, Trump said he was briefed by federal officials and that an investigation into the packages was underway.
Video by PBS NewsHour
“The full weight of our government is being deployed to conduct this investigation and bring those responsible for these despicable acts to justice,” Trump said. “In these times, we have to unify, we have to come together and send one clear, strong unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.”
The PBS NewsHour’s Gretchen Frazee and Dan Cooney contributed to this report.