A.G. Jeff Sessions Condemns Suspicious Packages Sent To Prominent Democrats

Oct 25, 2018
Originally published on October 25, 2018 4:42 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The search is on for the person - or persons - who sent at least 10 suspicious packages to prominent Trump critics this week. Here in Washington, the attorney general has condemned the bomber and said he is determined to ensure justice is done. In New York, police and elected officials are briefing the media. Here's police commissioner James O'Neill.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES O'NEILL: I can say with certainty that we will identify and arrest the person or people responsible for these acts.

KELLY: OK. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is here.

Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So many moving parts, it seems like, today. Catch us up on where the investigation stands.

JOHNSON: The FBI has confirmed it's investigating 10 suspicious packages. These are bomb-like devices contained in manila envelopes and sent to a who's who of well-known critics of President Trump. They include former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Congresswoman Maxine Waters. And this morning we learned that actor and prominent Trump critic Robert De Niro had received one of the packages at an address linked to him in New York. Another common denominator is that these all are people that President Trump himself has called out in campaign stops and speeches and tweets.

KELLY: What about the packages themselves and the fact that none of them actually exploded or hurt anybody - which is great news, of course - but does that tell us anything about the investigation?

JOHNSON: Authorities are tight-lipped about whether any of these devices may have exploded or had the potential to explode. The materials are at the FBI lab in Quantico, Va., for review there. An FBI official says part of that review is already underway. They're going to be looking for things like fingerprints or DNA for insights into how these devices were made. And the FBI's assistant director, William Sweeney, says the powder in at least some of these envelopes does not appear to pose a biological threat - important clue there.

A former official at the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who has reviewed some images of these devices say they don't appear to work. There is some hazardous material there, he says. But the images that he's seen seem to lack a second power source that would produce an actual explosion. And there's also a really big underlying question about the motive here.

KELLY: Right.

JOHNSON: If these devices were not meant to explode, did the bomber just want to scare people and intimidate them? And did that - was that happening for political or personal reasons? All of that is a big focus of this investigation.

KELLY: All right. So if we don't know the motive, do we have any clue as to who we're talking about, who the suspect is?

JOHNSON: At this briefing in New York, investigators were not talking about individual suspects. Here's what we do know. Investigators are focusing some resources on New York and some others in Florida. Remember these packages had a return address in Florida, specifically to the office of Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Schultz is not actually linked to these packages. She didn't send them, but whoever did made her part of the story. And there's another reason why authorities are focused on Florida. At least some of these homemade pipe bombs may have been mailed from Florida. Besides the FBI and the ATF, Postal Service investigators are involved here, too, trying to trace that. And a Postal Service representative has just told us - in the last eight hours or so, they've seen no new packages run through the system.

KELLY: And just briefly, Carrie - while this person or persons is still on the loose, anything we should do, any extra precautions we should be taking in opening our mail, for example?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Authorities say any device people see should be considered potentially dangerous. The FBI says - don't touch it; don't move it; don't handle it. Call police or the FBI if you have any concerns or see anything odd, strange or weird. Authorities are there to help.

KELLY: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson.

Thanks very much.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.