MIAMI — Cesar Sayoc was charged Friday with five federal crimes and faces up to 48 years in prison in connection to improvised explosive devices sent to prominent Democratic politicians, donors and CNN offices in New York.
Sayoc was arrested in a south Florida auto parts store Friday morning as additional explosive devices or suspicious packages were identified in New York and California.
A total of 13 bombs were mailed around the country, FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a new conferences, adding that there could be more packages not yet discovered.
“These are not hoax devices,” Wray said.
Sayoc was charged with illegal mailing of explosives, threats against former presidents and others, and assaulting current and former federal officers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, adding that charges could change or expand as the investigation continues. He initially said Sayoc faced up to 58 years in prison, but the Justice Department later revised that figure to 48.
“This is a law-and-order administration,” Sessions said at the Justice Department. “We will not tolerate such lawlessness, especially not political violence.”
Speaking at the White House Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump congratulated law enforcement on the arrest and denounced what he called “terrorizing acts.” He also called for unity: “peace and love and harmony as fellow Americans.”
“We must never allow political violence to take root in America,” Trump said at one point. “I’m committed to doing everything in my power as President to stop it.”
As the situation initially unfolded mid-morning — before the arrest was announced — the President complained on Twitter that the news media was busy reporting on “‘Bomb’ stuff” and not politics.
“Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this ‘Bomb’ stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows – news not talking politics. Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote!” Trump tweeted.
Sessions said a political motive was not immediately known.
Asked why the targets were Democrats or Trump critics, Sessions said, “I don’t know. Other than what you might normally expect. He may have been — appears to be partisan but that will be determined by the facts as the case goes forward.”
Sayoc’s social media accounts showed he was a fervent supporter of Trump and had posted criticism of CNN and other media outlets. Among the posts were threats to individual political figures and media outlets, including CNN and CNN employees.
Trump told reporters Friday on the South Lawn he had heard Sayoc was a supporter of his, but that didn’t mean much to the President.
“I heard he was a person who prefers me over others, but I did not see that,” Trump said when asked about images of Trump on Sayoc’s van.
The President added, “There’s no blame, there’s no anything.”
DNA, cell phone helped identify suspect
DNA found on at least one of the packages, as well as Sayoc’s cell phone, helped investigators identify him, multiple law enforcement officials said. He was not previously known to the Secret Service, law enforcement sources said, but Florida records show a string of arrests dating back to the early 1990s.
Notable among them is a 2002 arrest by Miami police for an offense described in online records as a “threat to bomb” and “threaten to discharge destructive device.” A police report at the time shows that he threatened to blow up a power company and that “it would be worse than September 11th.”
The online records do not provide details about the case. They show that Sayoc pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year of probation. There is also a notation about the ajudication being withheld.
The records show a total of eight arrests for offenses, including grand theft, battery, fraud and drug possession, as well as multiple probation violations. In 2014, he was arrested after stealing copper pipes at a Home Depot, to which he plead guilty.
The adjudication of each of the arrests could not immediately be determined from the summary of offenses provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Sayoc appears to have pleaded no contest to some offenses. Prosecutors appear to have dropped charges in other matters.
Sayoc also was arrested in North Carolina in 1999 on a stolen vehicle charge, which was later dismissed.
Florida voting records show Sayoc is a registered Republican. He filed for bankruptcy in 2012.
New packages Friday
Earlier Friday, authorities intercepted suspicious packages intended for Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey; former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California; and major Democratic donor Tom Steyer, the latest to be sent to prominent Democrats and critics of Trump that were discovered earlier this week.
The FBI said Friday that the package addressed to Booker was discovered in Florida and is “similar in appearance to the others.” Sources told CNN the package was addressed to the senator’s Camden, New Jersey, office. Booker confirmed the package was intended for him but declined to comment further to CNN. The packages intended for Harris and Steyer were discovered in California, law enforcement sources said.
The package intended for Clapper also was addressed to CNN, a law enforcement official said. It was found at a New York City postal facility and was similar to the other packages, the official added.
The Clapper package arrived in a manila envelope with six US flag stamps, just like others discovered this week. The return address is that of Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Florida office, which was the address on packages intended for former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, billionaire and Democratic donor George Soros, actor Robert De Niro, former Attorney General Eric Holder, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and former CIA Director John Brennan. There is no information that suggests Wasserman Schultz sent them.
Clapper, who has frequently criticized Trump, vowed to CNN Friday morning that he wouldn’t be intimidated in light of the discovery.
“I do want to just echo one thing that John Brennan said and that this is not going to silence the administration’s critics,” Clapper said.
Questions for investigators
A white van — adorned with images of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, as well as a “CNN Sucks” sticker — in Plantation was towed away Friday to Miramar, Florida, where an FBI field office is located, a law enforcement official said.
One key question authorities are asking is why none of the apparent bombs detonated, a law enforcement source said, raising questions about the skill and motive of the bombmaker.
The FBI called them “potentially destructive devices” — so either the bombmaker was good enough to ensure none would go off and never intended them to explode, or they were poorly constructed.
The presence of what is believed to be pyrotechnic powder is one reason why authorities consider them to be potentially destructive, though it appears they were handled through the postal system — where they were jostled and moved — without any explosion.
Outside experts have pointed to the lack of a triggering mechanism, suggesting they were never meant to explode.
The devices included very common components, making it more difficult to get clues from the signature of the bomb. But the components could have still provided clues — like the clock and the tape used.