Members of the New York Police Department are pictured outside the Time Warner Center in the Manhattan borough of New York City after a suspicious package was found inside the CNN Headquarters in New York, U.S., October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs
By Makini Brice and Jonathan Allen
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Police have intercepted suspected bombs mailed to former U.S. President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other high-profile Democrats, as well as to CNN, in what New York officials on Wednesday branded an act of terrorism.
The packages were similar in appearance and “contain potentially destructive devices,” the FBI said. Other officials said the devices looked similar to one that was found and detonated by police on Monday at the home of George Soros, a prominent Democratic Party donor and frequent target of right-wing conspiracy theories.
With the country deeply polarized, the news brought a new level of tension to the Nov. 6 election that will decide whether Democrats can take majorities now held by President Donald Trump’s Republicans in Congress.
The packages were mailed in manila envelopes with bubble wrap interior and had the return address of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a U.S. representative and former chair of the Democratic Party, the FBI said.
The U.S. Secret Service intercepted packages addressed to Obama at his Washington home and to Clinton at her home in New York state.
The CNN bureau in New York also received a package, leading police to evacuate the Time Warner <T.N> building in a busy part of New York City near Central Park.
“So far the devices have been what appeared to be pipe bombs,” John Miller, the New York police deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, told a news conference.
Eric Holder, who was U.S. attorney general under Obama, and Democratic Representative Maxine Waters were also among those targeted.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
“This clearly is an act of terror attempting to undermine our free press and leaders of this country through acts of violence,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference.
De Blasio later dismissed social media postings suggesting that the packages were a liberal hoax, telling CNN, “This is the real thing.”
“The bomb that was removed from the building right by here was a serious bomb … No, this is the real thing,” de Blasio said.
Trump and his press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders both condemned the acts as “despicable” and vowed to bring those responsible to justice.
Trump, who usually relishes in making partisan attacks on Democrats, also issued a rare call for unity.
“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,” Trump said at the White House.
“We’re extremely angry, upset and unhappy about what we witnessed this morning, and we will get to the bottom of it,” Trump said.
All of the targets are frequently maligned by right-wing critics. Trump has repeated criticized CNN as “fake news” and disparaged the mainstream media.
“There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media,” CNN President Jeff Zucker said in a statement that was read out on CNN. “The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand that their words matter. Thus far they have shown no comprehension of that.”
U.S. Democratic leaders in Congress said Trump’s call for unity rang “hollow” because of his past statements that condone acts of violence.
“Time and time again, the president has condoned physical violence and divided Americans with his words and his actions,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives top Democrat Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Last week, Trump heaped praise on a Montana congressman who assaulted a reporter in 2017.
“Any guy that can do a body-slam … is my guy,” Trump told supporters at the rally.
The package to Clinton was found late on Tuesday while the one addressed to Obama was recovered early on Wednesday, both during routine off-site mail screenings, the Secret Service said. Obama and Clinton were not at risk, they said.
Officials said the package received by CNN was addressed to former CIA director John Brennan, who appeared on CNN periodically before joining cable news rival MSNBC as a paid contributor.
Brennan has been an outspoken critic of Trump, calling the president’s performance during a July joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki “nothing short of treasonous.”
The package sent to CNN also contained an envelope of white powder that experts were analysing, Police Commissioner James O’Neill said.
In the weeks following the attacks of September 11, 2001, anthrax spores were mailed to news media offices and two U.S. senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others.
A suspicious package was found at the building that houses Wasserman Schultz’s office, the Broward Sheriff’s office said.
The FBI said the package was meant for Holder but rerouted to the return address in Florida.
Waters said in a statement that her Washington office was the target of “a suspicious package.” The package was intercepted at a Maryland mail processing facility, NBC reported.
(Reporting by Makini Brice and Jonathan Allen; Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu, Mark Hosenball and Susan Heavey in Washington, Gina Cherelus and Gabriella Borter in New York; Writing by Susan Heavey and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Rosalba O’Brien)