Federal authorities made an arrest Friday in the nationwide bombing campaign against outspoken critics of President Donald Trump, a significant breakthrough in a case that has gripped the country in the days leading up to the midterm elections.
Law enforcement officials identified the suspect as Cesar Sayoc, 56, of Aventura, Fla., just north of Miami.
The arrest came even as the crude pipe bombs continued to appear across the country. One, found in Florida, was addressed to Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; another, discovered in a Manhattan post office, was sent to James Clapper, a former director of national intelligence; and a third was intercepted before it reached Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.
A fourth bomb, found Friday in a mail facility in California, was addressed to Tom Steyer, a prominent Democratic donor, a person close to him said.
At a news conference Friday afternoon in Washington, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Sayoc had been charged with five counts, including illegal mailing of explosives and making threats against former presidents. According to a criminal complaint released as Sessions spoke, the packages included photographs of intended targets, each marked with a red X.
When asked why Sayoc purportedly had sent the bombs to Democrats, Sessions said he was not sure, adding that the suspect "appears to be a partisan."
The five charges carry a potential 58 years in total jail time if Sayoc is convicted, Sessions said.
Federal officials said they had tracked down Sayoc, who has a lengthy arrest history, after finding one of his fingerprints on a package sent to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. Sayoc's identity was confirmed, the officials added, after investigators found a match between DNA samples discovered on two other packages and DNA that was collected during one of his previous arrests.
The FBI director, Christopher Wray, said the bureau was still trying to determine if the bombs were "functional" but also noted that they contained "energetic material" that could be dangerous. Wray said that the investigation was "active and ongoing" and cautioned that there could be more bombs still undiscovered.
Sayoc likely will be held over the weekend and have his first appearance in Miami federal court on Monday.
Wray declined to say if Sayoc is cooperating with investigators.
Sayoc is a registered Republican whose arrest record in Florida dates to 1991 and includes felony theft, drug and fraud charges, as well as allegations that he threatened to use a bomb, public records show.
Sayoc was arrested around 11 a.m. Friday at an AutoZone shop in Plantation, Fla., about 20 miles from Aventura, officials said. Patrol cars shut down the surrounding streets, leaving rows of businesses inaccessible for part of the morning. Authorities also seized and towed away Sayoc's white van.
Some residents of Aventura reported seeing a similar white van, the windows of which were plastered with a thick collage of pro-Trump stickers, often parked in the lot of a strip mall, the Aventura Waterways shopping center. Photos of the van showed that one of the stickers depicted Trump standing in front of flames and the American flag. Another was of Hillary Clinton's face in the cross hairs of a rifle scope. A third said: "CNN Sucks."
"It struck me because of the crazy conspiratorial stickers covering the windows," said David Cypkin, a documentary film producer and editor with the Rakontur production company. "It was unsettling, and also it seemed to be occupied. Sometimes the door would be ajar or a window would be open, which indicated to me that maybe somebody was living in the van."
Speaking Friday at the White House, Trump praised law enforcement officials for quickly arresting a suspect.
"These terrorizing acts are despicable and have no place in our country," he said.
"We must never allow political violence to take root in America and I'm committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it and stop it now," he added.
Later Friday, speaking with reporters on the South Lawn before he left for a political rally in North Carolina, Trump said he knows the suspect was a supporter, but said he bears "no blame" for the suspect's actions.
"There is no blame," he said.
He compared the series of threatening packages to how a Democratic supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders shot up a GOP baseball field last year, seriously injuring Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
One law enforcement official said that Sayoc was expected to be questioned under what is known as the national-security exception, meaning that he can be interviewed at least initially without the presence of a lawyer.
The package addressed to Clapper was meant to be delivered to the New York offices of CNN, where he works as an analyst, but was intercepted at a mail facility in midtown Manhattan, police officials in New York City said. The package addressed to Booker was found in Florida, which two people briefed on the matter have said has become a focus of the intense, nationwide investigation into the bombs.
Clapper appeared on CNN shortly after news broke that a package was addressed to him, saying he felt relief no one was harmed by that device.
"This is definitely domestic terrorism, no doubt about it in my mind," he said. Clapper said anyone who has criticized Trump should take extra precautions when handling their mail, adding: "This is not going to silence the administration's critics."
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who was also a target of one of the packages, took a moment during a Democratic political rally Friday in Hartford, Conn., to speak about "all the pipe bombs, the sense of hate and terror that seems to be gripping us."
He quoted passages from the W.B. Yeats poem "The Second Coming," including the line, "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold."
Biden said, "I hope and pray that our leaders are prepared to lower the temperature of our public dialogue," suggesting, "We just have to remember who we are and what we stand for as a nation."
All together, 13 explosive devices have been found since Monday, sent through the mail to a host of Democrats and other prominent figures who have been among Trump's most vocal detractors. The packages -- virtually identical in plain manila envelopes -- have been addressed to former President Barack Obama; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Waters; former Attorney General Eric Holder; John Brennan, a former CIA director, actor Robert De Niro; and George Soros, the billionaire Democratic donor.
All of the envelopes had return address labels bearing the misspelled name of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat whose district is in southern Florida. None of the devices inside has exploded on their own so far, and investigators are still seeking to determine whether they were even capable of detonating. But authorities in New York and elsewhere have warned that the devices should be considered dangerous.
While investigators initially thought that some devices were hand-delivered, they now believe it is likely all of them were sent in the mail. Using information collected by the Postal Service, investigators focused their attention on certain Florida postal centers, including one in Opa-locka near Miami.
Information for this article was contributed by William K. Rashbaum, Alan Feuer and Adam Goldman of The New York Times; by Jay Weaver, David Ovalle, Alex Harris, Charles Rabin, Martin Vassolo, Colleen Wright, Rene Rodriguez and Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald; by Devlin Barrett, Mark Berman, Matt Zapotosky, Julie Tate, Alice Crites, John Wagner, Seung Min Kim and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. of The Washington Post; and by staff members of The Associated Press.
FBI Director Christopher Wray (left) chats with Attorney General Jeff Sessions before a news conference Friday at the Department of Justice in Washington.
A New York Police Department bomb unit member holds a case Friday containing a suspicious package discovered at a post office in midtown Manhattan.
FBI agent Sean Regan talks about the explosive device addressed to U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris that was found Friday at a Sacramento, Calif., post office.
A Section on 10/27/2018
Print Headline: Mail-bomb suspect nabbed; Florida man described as ‘a partisan’