(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Investigators Treating Packages As 'Live Devices,' Not Hoax

October 25, 2018 - 7:35 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) -- Investigators searched coast-to-coast Thursday for the culprit and mysterious motives behind the bizarre mail-bomb plot aimed at critics of the president, analyzing the innards of the crude devices to reveal whether they were intended to detonate or simply sow fear two weeks before Election Day.

The mail-bomb scare widened Thursday as law enforcement officials seized three more suspicious packages — two addressed to former Vice President Joe Biden and one to actor Robert De Niro — and said they were similar to crude pipe bombs sent to former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and CNN.

None of the devices exploded, and no one was injured.

Investigators probing the crude pipe bombs are trying to determine whether the devices were intended to detonate or whether they were simply sent to sow fear, two law enforcement officials told the Associated Press. They said the devices were not rigged like a traditional booby trap package bomb that would explode upon opening.

The officials, who weren't authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said they didn't appear to have a trip wire or ignition. But they were still uncertain whether the devices were poorly designed or never intended to cause physical harm. 

At a press conference Thursday, officials in New York would not discuss possible motives, or details on how the packages found their way into the U.S. postal system. Nor would they say why none of the packages had detonated, but they stressed they were still treating them as "live devices."

"As far as a hoax device, we're not treating it that way," said Police Commissioner James O'Neill.

At the briefing, authorities confirmed that at least some of the packages were distributed through the U.S. mail. U.S. Postal Inspection Service spokesman Philip Bartlett said investigators searching for additional suspicious parcels had not found any during the day Thursday. 

Law enforcement sources tell CBS News some of the packages were mailed from Florida. An official told the Associated Press investigators were homing in on a postal facility in Opa-locka, Florida, where they believe some of the packages originated.

The packages, sent to prominent Democrats critical of President Donald Trump, heightened nationwide tensions and fears two weeks before major congressional midterm elections.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the packages were "clearly an effort to terrorize people politically, to choose people for political purposes and attack them because of their beliefs."

The politics belied the life-and-death nature of the growing list of bombing targets in New York, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Florida and California.

The new discoveries brought to 10 the number of suspicious packages targeting Democrats but intercepted by authorities this week.

Police on Thursday said the package recovered in Manhattan addressed to De Niro, who dropped an expletive insult at Trump at this year's Tony Awards, was similar to the other pipe bombs recovered this week. De Niro had also apologized to Canadians for the "idiotic behavior of my president."

"Robert De Niro is not only a great actor but he is a great New Yorker -- he has been very helpful to this state on many occasions but he has a political voice and he's expressed his poilitcal opinion, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said to WCBS 880 Thursday morning. "So if you follow the pattern which we still have to identify totally, but he is a politcally active person and that package is on its way now to be fully analyzed."

Early Thursday morning, a retired NYPD intelligence bureau detective was watching the news eand saw the image of the packaging used in previous incidents and he recalled seeing a similar package Tuesday in mail he was to screen for De Niro's production company on Greenwich Street, NYPD counterterrorism head John Miller said.

He alerted authorities and the suspected exlposive device was removed by the NYPD and sent it to the bomb squad facility in the Bronx, WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported. 

De Blasio praised the NYPD bomb squad which moved the pipe bomb and De Niro's security personnel who spotted it, CBS 880's Rich Lamb reported. The mayor also said this is clearly an effort to terrorize people politically and he urged people to be vigilant.

"We need people to use their common sense," de Blaso said. "If a package looks suspicious, if there are any indications of something out of the ordinary ... do not open it. Notify the NYPD or call 911."

Biden has also criticized Trump, as recently as last week, saying Trump may not "know what he's doing" and coddles dictators.

A law enforcement official said the packages addressed to Biden were intercepted at Delaware mail facilities in New Castle and Wilmington and were similar to the others. The official wasn't authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Recovery of the packages to Biden and De Niro came after others were received by prominent Democrats and CNN.

The first crude bomb to be discovered had been delivered Monday to the suburban New York compound of George Soros, a liberal billionaire and major contributor to Democratic causes. Soros has called Trump's presidency "dangerous."

Similar packages addressed to Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama on their way to Chappaqua, New York, where Clinton lives with former President Bill Clinton and to Washington, where Obama lives with his wife, Michelle. The Secret Service said neither package reached their recipients.

More were sent to frequent Trump critics Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California and former Attorney General Eric Holder. His ended up at the Florida office of Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was listed as the return address.

A police bomb squad removed the package addressed to Brennan from CNN's New York office, which was evacuated.

This image obtained Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, and provided by ABC News shows a package addressed to former CIA head John Brennan and an explosive device that was sent to CNN's New York office. The mail-bomb scare widened Thursday as law enforcement officials seized more suspicious packages. (ABC News via AP)

The bombs seized Wednesday, each with a small battery, were about six inches long and packed with powder and broken glass, said a law enforcement official who viewed X-ray images and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

The official said the devices were made from PVC pipe and covered with black tape.

The devices all were sent to an FBI lab in Virginia to be studied. Officials provided no details on a possible suspect or motive.

"Suffice it to say, it appears an individual or individuals sent out multiple, similar packages," said Miller.

Much was still unanswered about the devices and authorities have said nothing about suspects. Details suggest only a broad pattern — that the items were packaged in manila envelopes, addressed to prominent Trump critics and carried U.S. postage stamped. Some were discovered in mail processing facilities. 

Even as everyone condemned the unknown sender and Trump decried political violence, blame flew for the corrosive nature of America's political conversation.

"A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News," Trump said in a morning Tweet. "It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!"

Former CIA Director John Brennan, the target of one package sent to CNN where he has been a contributor, fired back.

"Stop blaming others. Look in the mirror," Brennan tweeted. "Your inflammatory rhetoric, insults, lies, & encouragement of physical violence are disgraceful. Clean up your act....try to act Presidential."

As the scope of the attack became clearer Wednesday, Trump decried political violence during a scripted event in the White House East Room and other members of the administration said it has no place in American society.

Later at a rally in Wisconsin, he urged unity.

"Let's get along," he said. "By the way, do you see how nice I'm behaving tonight? Have you ever seen this?"

But at the same event, he blamed the media and on Twitter Thursday kept up the argument that the media plays a role.

"Acts or threats of political violence have no place in the United States," Trump said. "This egregious conduct is abhorrent."

Other Republican leaders said the same. But Democratic Senate and House leaders Chuck Schumer of New York and Nancy Pelosi of California said such words "ring hollow" when coming from Trump. They noted the president's recent praise of a GOP congressman who body-slammed a reporter, among other Trump statements.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report)