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Bombs sent to CNN, prominent Democrats at time of political division

Federal agents are investigating bomb scares targeting prominent Democrats, as well as CNN. Amna Nawaz reports on the political discourse that may have inspired it, as well as President Trump’s response. Hari Sreenivasan reports from New York. Judy Woodruff discusses with Juliette Kayyem, who worked in the Department of Homeland Security under Obama, and Joseph Funk, former Secret Service.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Federal agents are working tonight to get to the bottom of bomb scares up and down the East Coast. The targets are mainly prominent Democrats, as well as CNN, and locations range from New York to Florida.

    Amna Nawaz begins our coverage.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    After a string of explosive devices were sent to two former Democratic presidents, senior officials and a high-profile party donor, President Trump today pledged action. He promised the full resources of the government to bring to justice those responsible for what he called despicable acts.

  • President Donald Trump:

    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.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Authorities say they were able to safely remove or detonate the devices, sent in packages targeting some of the biggest names in the Democratic Party.

    The discoveries unfolded at a dizzying pace. Earlier this week, a suspicious package was found in the mailbox at the compound of billionaire George Soros in Bedford, New York. Last night, a similar package was found headed to the home of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Chappaqua, New York, early this morning, another one, this time sent to the Washington, D.C., home of former President Barack Obama, a few hours later, a package addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan sent to the CNN office in New York City.

    That package triggered an alarm to evacuate the building.


  • Jim Sciutto:

    That sounds like a fire alarm here. We will keep you posted on that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Forcing journalists to continue reporting from the streets outside their building.

  • Kate Bolduan:

    Shelter in place.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    ABC News later tweeted a photo of what it said was the bomb sent to CNN, recovered by the New York Police Department.

    Authorities say all of the packages contained a pipe bomb, and they suspect the same person or people could be behind the attacks. An NYPD official and New York's governor briefed the public.

  • John Miller:

    It appears that an individual or individuals sent out multiple similar packages.

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo:

    There is a number of devices. And there's a pattern apparently to the number of devices. We wouldn't be at all surprised if more devices show up.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    This afternoon, the South Florida offices of Congresswoman and former Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz were evacuated after a suspicious package arrived addressed to former Attorney General Eric Holder.

    Another suspicious package addressed to Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California was intercepted at a Maryland mail facility. Republican leaders quickly sent out messages condemning the attacks. Speaker Paul Ryan called them reprehensible. Senator Marco Rubio labeled them an attack on America.

    And Vice President Pence spoke out at a campaign event in Pennsylvania.

  • Vice President Mike Pence:

    We condemn these attempted acts of violence in the strongest possible terms. These cowardly acts are despicable and have no place in American society.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The FBI is now leading the investigation into the seemingly partisan attacks. But they come at a time of escalating, ugly political rhetoric, and deep divisions in the country, divisions many accuse the president himself of stoking.

    The president continues to publicly attack Secretary Clinton, encouraging rally chants of "Lock her up."

  • CROWD:

    Lock her up!

  • Amna Nawaz:

    He's insulted former CIA Director Brennan as a "loudmouth, partisan, political hack" and threatened to revoke his security clearance.

    And a president who often derides the press has singled out CNN for particular scorn.

  • Crowd:

    CNN sucks! CNN sucks!

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Soros, a longtime donor to progressive causes around the world, has also long been a target of conservatives and the far right. One recent film endorsed by the president's son Donald Jr. went so far as to label Soros a Nazi collaborator.

    The billionaire investor survived the Nazi occupation in his native Hungary as a child.

    At a campaign rally in Florida today, a somber Hillary Clinton said she worried for the direction of the country.

  • Hillary Clinton:

    But it is a troubling time, isn't it? And it's a time of deep divisions, and we have to do everything we can to bring our country together.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As of this hour, neither the FBI nor other law enforcement officials have provided any motive for the pipe bombs.

    Late today, CNN president Jeff Zucker criticized the president — quote — "The president and especially the White House press secretary," he said, "should understand their words matter. Thus far," he added, "they have shown no comprehension of that."

    Let's check back into New York City this evening about this tense and sometimes confusing day.

    Hari Sreenivasan is there for us. He joins us from Columbus Circle on the West Side of Manhattan.

    Hari, you standing in front of the Time Warner building. What's the situation there now?

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Good evening. Judy.

    It's pretty much back to normal on a cold fall day. There are police cars outside, but there's always police cars outside here. There's a lot of sat trucks, or satellite trucks. There's also satellite trucks here because CNN is based just over my shoulder.

    So here, at this point, there are reporters outnumbering police. There's a lot of people that are going about their day, trying to take in the holidays, because this is one of the tourist spots right here on the corner of Central Park.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hari, there were reports today of confusion around New York City beyond Time Warner. What do we know about that?

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Interestingly, on my way here, this is a few hours after the initial event that occurred, my phone was still going off in the subway, because authorities here tried to send the message out through an emergency text alert system for anybody that was in the area, including some colleagues of mine whose children were about two, three blocks away from here.

    Everybody got a notice to shelter in place. But that little alert didn't seem to turn off very quickly. So, even hours after the fact, as everyone in the subway car entered whatever that area was, all of our phones went off at the same time.

    And, at that point, that led to greater confusion, because some people who hadn't seen the news, or even if they had, they wondered whether there was something new that they should be concerned about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Can only imagine what that must have been like.

    Hari Sreenivasan, reporting for us tonight from New York, thanks, Hari.

    We now turn to two guests with extensive experience dealing with security-related issues.

    Juliette Kayyem served in the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration. She has focused on domestic and international terrorism throughout her career. She's now a lecturer at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Joseph Funk was a member of the U.S. Secret Service for 21 years, where he served on the protection details of former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He's now the senior vice president of TorchStone Global. It's a security advisory firm.

    And we welcome both of you to the program.

    Joseph Funk, to you first.

    What do you make of this? Can you compare what's happened today up and down the East Coast to anything else you have seen in your career?

  • Joseph Funk:

    Well, Judy, good evening. It's a pleasure to be here.

    The events of today, I cannot remember of any concerted effort in my experience, other than some of the bombing campaigns that have happened in New York in the early 1900s, the Weather Underground, the FALN.

    But to target political leaders like we see today, no, this is something that I believe is new in the annals of the Secret Service.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Juliette Kayyem, what about you? Is there anything you can compare it to?

  • Juliette Kayyem:

    Not really.

    I mean, I agree with Joseph. You know, the fact it wasn't successful is somewhat besides the point. Someone or a group of people tried to hurt or actually kill the senior members of one of the political parties.

    And we haven't really seen that in such a concerted effort like this ever, I think, in the United States. And so that is why, you know, the FBI is obviously taking it quite seriously.

    I will say, as Joseph certainly knows, there is good news here, which is the system did work. I'm reluctant to use those words, but to the extent that the Secret Service had these layered defenses to protect in particular our former presidents really was beneficial for the outcome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank God for that.

    Joseph Funk, tell us what you expect the investigation right now entails. What do you think they're focusing on?

  • Joseph Funk:

    Well, to echo Juliette's remarks, the system did work. The multiple layers of security did work.

    But in a much broader concept, this probably — if an event like this is going to happen, the best place to happen is New York. The experience, the expertise of the NYPD is unmatched. And the FBI has a very robust presence, and probably the lead, the flagship office of the FBI office is New York.

    So if we are going to see events like this happen, it's probably best that it happens in an area that has this highest level of law enforcement.

    As far as proceeding, the fact that the bombs were undetonated, were received in whole, I think, is going to lead to a cache of valuable investigative leads, and I would imagine a pretty rapid conclusion to this — I hate to make predictions, but with the bulk of evidence seized and the experience of the NYPD, the ATF, and the FBI, I think it will lead to a conclusion probably soon than later.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Juliette Kayyem, are you equally optimistic that, given what's here, that it will be sooner rather than later before we know what was behind this?

  • Juliette Kayyem:

    I do.

    You know, I don't want to predict either, and we heard a lot about the Unabomber, the anthrax attacks and other attacks that utilized the mail system. Today is so much — so different, just because the technology is so — between the sort of digital footprints that may be found, you know, video cameras, purchases online that are going to be followed with someone buying a lot of one commodity that we should be worried about, as well as, you know, the physical aspect of having the bomb, which may have fingerprints, which is going to lead to more investigative clues, both of those are very beneficial for this investigation.

    The last thing, though, is the breadth of this — of these — the delivery of these devices, each of those devices had a certain number of vulnerabilities that are going to be exposed by a good law enforcement case.

    There's couriers involved, there's purchases involved, there's different states. And so I think, in some ways, because this was so big, that the vulnerabilities of trying to plan this may be easily exposed and solved by law enforcement.

    This is not the 1980s, where we were dealing with, you know, similar-type attacks, or even early 2000s.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Joseph Funk, we did hear in the reporting, Amna Nawaz's reporting earlier, that they are focusing on one or a group of individuals who would be behind all of these attacks potentially.

    Is there a type person who would try to pull off something like this? Clearly, we are in a very heated political environment right now.

  • Joseph Funk:

    We are, Judy.

    I really can't speak to motives. I would say incidents like this are probably — are usually traced back to a loner. One of the positive aspects prior to sending a device through the mail, many times, these people who commit these acts are letter writers.

    The Secret Service will have a vast database of letters that have been written. Comparing those letters with some of the packages sent today may help to identify a suspect.

    That being said, I would expect this investigation to take a lead into the political arena that we are in nowadays. Rhetoric does have results on both sides.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Juliette Kayyem, picking up on that, how — is it — I guess my question is, you know, we just heard Joseph say that the person who did this is likely to have already expressed himself or herself some way out there, whether it's social media, writing letters.

    So, how does — how does that affect the investigation here?

  • Juliette Kayyem:

    So, it will be part of both the clues of identifying the person and then also getting to motive.

    So, you know, obviously, Joseph and I want to be careful about sort of about, you know, making too many conclusions, but I will say this. A sophisticated law enforcement effort right now will take — will look at who were the targets of the bombings and make a rational conclusion.

    Simply because it's a political conclusion doesn't mean that it's wrong. And so, you know, we shouldn't let being careful, you know, sort of blind us from being smart, which is essentially, someone attacked Democrats, or CNN, which is aligned with Democrats, or George Soros, And so you are going to start with a position of someone who do not — doesn't like those institutions and those individuals.

    And that would be generally someone who's not a Democrat or not left-leaning. That's not a political statement. It's just obviously law enforcement at this stage.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we're just on the first night after this has happened, at least most of these bombing attempts. And we're going to continue to watch it very closely, as I know the two of you will.

    Juliette Kayyem and Joseph Funk, thank you both.

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