Florida man charged in connection with package bomb sent to Trump critics

Reuters PLANTATION | Updated on October 27, 2018 Published on October 27, 2018

FBI Director Christopher Wray answers questions from reporters on the arrest of Cesar Sayoc on charges of sending at least a dozen parcel bombs to Democratic politicians and high-profile critics of President Trump during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, US.   -  Reuters

Fingerprint and DNA evidence helped identify the suspect Cesar Sayoc

The man suspected of mailing at least 14 pipe bombs to some of US President Donald Trump's leading critics was arrested on Friday in Florida on federal charges in a case echoing the rancor of one of the most toxic election campaigns in decades.

Cesar Sayoc, 56, a part-time pizza deliveryman, grocery worker and former stripper once charged with threatening to bomb an electric company in a billing dispute, was taken into custody by federal agents outside an auto parts store in Plantation, Florida, near Miami as helicopters flew overhead.

Authorities also seized a white van that Sayoc appeared to have used as his dwelling, its windows plastered with pro-Trump stickers, the slogan “CNN SUCKS” and images of Democratic leaders with red cross-hairs over their faces.

Fingerprint and DNA evidence helped identify the suspect, but his arrest did not necessarily end the threat, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray warned at a news conference. “There may be other packages in transit now and other packages on the way,” Wray said.

One federal law enforcement source told Reuters that authorities were investigating whether other individuals were involved and did not rule out further arrests. Sayoc's arrest followed an intense four-day manhunt sparked by the discovery of bombs concealed in packages addressed to such leading Democratic figures as former US President Barack Obama and former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom Trump defeated in the 2016 presidential race.

Some of the parcels also contained photographs of the intended recipients marked with a red X, according to a criminal complaint in Manhattan federal court. The complaint accused Sayoc of sending 13 bombs to 11 individuals, starting with billionaire Democratic donor George Soros. A package surfaced on Monday near his home in Katonah, New York.

A 14th package was found on Friday at a post office outside San Francisco addressed to another wealthy contributor to the Democratic Party and liberal causes, Tom Steyer. The bombs were sent in manila envelopes lined with bubble wrap and consisted of plastic 6-inch pipes packed with explosive material and wired to small clocks and batteries, the complaint said.

Wray said investigators had yet to determine whether the bombs were actually “functional,” but added that the devices could be dangerous “if subjected to the right combination of heat or shock or friction.” All were sent through the US Postal Service system and intercepted before reaching their intended targets without exploding. No one has been hurt.

But the bombs have heightened tensions during the closing days of a highly contentious campaign ahead of the Nov 6 elections in which Democrats are battling to seize control of Congress now held by Trump's Republican Party. Wray said fingerprints on one of two packages sent to U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, a Los Angeles Democrat frequently disparaged by Trump as “low-IQ Maxine,” belonged to Sayoc. The complaint also cited a “possible DNA” link between samples taken from two of the bombs and a sample previously collected from Sayoc.

‘Political violence’

Sayoc was charged with five felony counts, including interstate transportation and illegal mailing of explosives, threatening a former president, making threatening interstate communications and assaulting federal officers. If convicted, Sayoc could be sentenced up to 48 years in prison, officials said. “We will not tolerate such lawlessness, especially political violence,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a press conference.

Announcing the arrest to a cheering audience at the White House, Trump said, “We must never allow political violence to take root in America - cannot let it happen,” Trump said. “And I'm committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it and to stop it now.”

A native of New York City's Brooklyn borough and a registered Republican, Sayoc made his political views evident on social media. In Facebook and Twitter posts, he railed against Democrats, Muslims and liberals, including an anti-Soros tweet two days before a bomb showed up at the financier's home.

The Arizona Republic newspaper reported that Sayoc threatened Republican US Senator Jeff Flake, one of the few Republicans in Congress openly critical of Trump, in a pair of Oct 1 Twitter posts consisting of violent imagery and a photo of Flake's Arizona home, with the message, “... very nice house Jeff a lot entrances.”

Public records showed numerous arrests over the years for domestic violence, theft and other charges, including the alleged bomb threat against a utility company. Sayoc was expected to be held at the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami and make his first appearance before a judge on Monday, according to former Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weinstein.

A public defender listed as Sayoc's attorney of record in New York, Sarah Baumgartel, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Ron Lowy, a former lawyer for Sayoc who now represents his family, told CNN he believed Sayoc was left emotionally scarred as a boy when his father left the home, developing an identity crisis in which he ultimately embraced Trump as a kind of father figure.

“Its my opinion that he was attracted to the Trump formula of reaching out, Trump reaching out to these types of outsiders - people who dont fit in, people who are angry at America, telling them that they have a place at the table, telling them that its OK to get angry,” Lowy said.

‘Stop the rancor’

All the individuals targeted by the packages Sayoc is accused of sending have been outspoken critics of Trump and his administration, foils for the president and his right-wing supporters or both.

Among intended recipients earlier in the week were former Vice President Joe Biden, former Attorney General Eric Holder, actor Robert De Niro and former CIA director John Brennan, whose security clearance Trump revoked after Brennan lambasted Trump's Russia summit performance as “nothing short of treasonous.” His package was delivered to the Manhattan bureau of CNN, where he had served as an on-air analyst.

On Friday, packages surfaced for Democratic US Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, former US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Democratic US Senator Kamala Harris of California. The episode has sparked an outcry from Trump's critics charging that his inflammatory rhetoric against perceived enemies among Democrats and the press has fostered a climate ripe for politically motivated violence. “If we don't stop this political mania, this fervor, rancor, hatred, you'll see this again and again and again,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told MSNBC. “...It starts with the president.”

Trump's supporters have accused Democrats of unfairly suggesting that the president was to blame for the bomb scares, and Trump himself accused the press of using coverage of the investigation to score political points against him.

After first calling for unity at the White House event, Trump lamented partisan attacks against him and again pointed at the media. “I get attacked all the time ... I can do the greatest thing for our country, and on the networks and on different things it will show bad,” he told the crowd, acknowledging an attendee who shouted “fake news.”

Published on October 27, 2018

A letter from the Editor

Dear Readers,

The coronavirus crisis has changed the world completely in the last few months. All of us have been locked into our homes, economic activity has come to a near standstill. Everyone has been impacted.

Including your favourite business and financial newspaper. Our printing and distribution chains have been severely disrupted across the country, leaving readers without access to newspapers. Newspaper delivery agents have also been unable to service their customers because of multiple restrictions.

In these difficult times, we, at BusinessLine have been working continuously every day so that you are informed about all the developments – whether on the pandemic, on policy responses, or the impact on the world of business and finance. Our team has been working round the clock to keep track of developments so that you – the reader – gets accurate information and actionable insights so that you can protect your jobs, businesses, finances and investments.

We are trying our best to ensure the newspaper reaches your hands every day. We have also ensured that even if your paper is not delivered, you can access BusinessLine in the e-paper format – just as it appears in print. Our website and apps too, are updated every minute, so that you can access the information you want anywhere, anytime.

But all this comes at a heavy cost. As you are aware, the lockdowns have wiped out almost all our entire revenue stream. Sustaining our quality journalism has become extremely challenging. That we have managed so far is thanks to your support. I thank all our subscribers – print and digital – for your support.

I appeal to all or readers to help us navigate these challenging times and help sustain one of the truly independent and credible voices in the world of Indian journalism. Doing so is easy. You can help us enormously simply by subscribing to our digital or e-paper editions. We offer several affordable subscription plans for our website, which includes Portfolio, our investment advisory section that offers rich investment advice from our highly qualified, in-house Research Bureau, the only such team in the Indian newspaper industry.

A little help from you can make a huge difference to the cause of quality journalism!


Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
You have read 1 out of 3 free articles for this week. For full access, please subscribe and get unlimited access to all sections.