News Brief: Pipe Bomb Investigations, Saudi Investment Conference

Oct 25, 2018
Originally published on October 25, 2018 8:40 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NOEL KING, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Noel King in Washington, D.C.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene in Culver City, Calif. President Trump's political career is in part defined by his willingness to openly mock people he disagrees with. Now, though, he is calling for civility after at least seven apparent pipe bombs were mailed to his political opponents.

KING: That's right. At a rally in Wisconsin last night, the president condemned the incident. And then he turned his attention to the press.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The media also has a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks and stories - have to do it.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).

KING: So far, authorities haven't released any information about a possible suspect.

GREENE: And we have a lot to talk about here. So let's bring in NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith and also NPR's Ryan Lucas. Hello to you both.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Ryan, let's start with you. Seems like we're talking about seven devices now, at least, that were mailed out. Who were they intended for?

LUCAS: The first was found Monday outside the home of billionaire investor George Soros, who's a big contributor to Democratic causes. And then others were discovered addressed to Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, Obama's former attorney general, Eric Holder, and then his former CIA director, John Brennan.

Now, the package intended for Brennan was sent to the CNN office in New York. It was discovered in the mailroom there. And then late last night, we got word from the FBI that it had confirmed two more suspicious packages that were similar in appearance to the others. Those were addressed to Maxine Waters. She's a California Democrat in the House who has been a very sharp critic of the president.

GREENE: OK, so the term pipe bomb is being used. Explain more about that. What do we know about these devices and, if anything, who may have sent them?

LUCAS: Well, on the question of who may have sent them, we don't know anything at this point.

GREENE: OK.

LUCAS: There's no word about suspects as of yet. It's still very early in the - in the investigation. We do, however, have some details on the packages and what they contained. And as you said, they've been described by officials as pipe bombs. They are potential explosive devices. The packages themselves were mailed in identical bubble-wrapped manila envelopes. This is what the FBI says. The addresses on them were all computer-printed. The return address on each package was that of Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.

Now, each package had six U.S. Postal Service stamps. The package that was addressed to former Attorney General Eric Holder, it didn't make it to his office. It was rerouted. The FBI says it was returned to the alleged sender - so in this case, to Wasserman Schultz. She of course did not send these packages. She has said that she is very troubled by the way that her name has been used in all of this. Her own office in Florida actually was evacuated yesterday because of a suspicious package there.

KING: Tam, let's turn this over to you for a minute. This is a really unusual moment. How has the president been reacting to all of this?

KEITH: President Trump has been calling for civility. He says - he's saying all of the things that you would expect a president to say in a time like this, saying that there is an investigation ongoing, that they will bring the people responsible to justice and saying that any acts or threats of political violence are an attack on democracy itself. He said all of that last night at that rally, clearly reading from the teleprompter.

KING: What was the president's mood like at the rally? Do you have a sense of that?

KEITH: You know, it was almost like he was giving a speech that he would give in the White House, except he was at this big rally. And his rallies are usually these - these raucous events where people come for the show. And, you know, it was in an airplane hangar in Wisconsin. And instead, he was giving this very measured speech, where he was quite careful not to say the names of any of those people who were were sent bombs, people who typically he talks about in his rallies.

KING: Yeah.

KEITH: And he was actually very self-conscious about this.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

TRUMP: And by the way, do you see how nice I'm behaving tonight? This is like - have you ever seen this? We're all behaving very well. And hopefully we can keep it that way, right?

KEITH: And the question becomes, how long does it stay like this? How long does he stay on the teleprompter, if you will? You know, following that hearing with Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, he said that she seemed credible. And he was very measured in the way he talked about her. And then at some point, he flipped a switch. And he went to one of his rallies, and he was highly critical of her because he felt that that was the right political thing to do.

KING: Well, the president so far hasn't said anything directly about the people who were targeted. But what about them? Have they said anything publicly?

KEITH: Well, Hillary Clinton spoke yesterday. And she did - she said a line that she actually says quite a bit, which is that she's not worried about herself. She's fine. But she's worried about America. John Brennan also spoke a lot of talk about - about the political climate that exists at this time.

GREENE: Ryan, let me turn back to you. I mean, so far in these early hours, investigators seem to be suggesting they're not thinking about, like, possible political motives and stuff. They're just literally digging in to figure out what happened here. So where does this investigation go at this moment?

LUCAS: Well, right now the items, these suspicious packages and the pipe bombs that they contained, they've been collected. They're being sent to the FBI lab at Quantico, Va. They'll be analyzed there, take a look at sort of what type of materials are in these packages, look for fingerprints, run other tests on them to figure out as much as they can and glean as much evidence as possible.

Now, the FBI is not working on its own in this investigation. This is a very big investigation that's underway. The Secret Service is involved. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is, of course. And even the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is involved in this because of the mail element.

Now, FBI Director Christopher Wray has said that this investigation is of the highest priority. The bureau is putting its full weight behind it. But this is also something that they can't - they can't do all of this on their own. And Wray has actually made an appeal to anyone in the public who might have information that could be of use to the FBI in this investigation to come forward and contact the FBI and tell them what they have.

GREENE: OK. And obviously, NPR is going to be continuing to cover this story as it evolves. We'll keep on top of it on the radio and also at npr.org. NPR's Ryan Lucas and Tamara Keith, we really appreciate it. Thank you both.

KEITH: You're welcome.

LUCAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right, we want to turn now to Saudi Arabia, where Saudi's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has not let allegations that he was involved in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi derail his efforts to court foreign investment in his country.

KING: Yeah, that's right. There is a major conference going on in Riyadh right now. It's called the Future Investment Initiative. And it's part of this attempt by Saudi Arabia to position itself as a modern, open place for new investment under this young, energetic crown prince. But a lot of high-profile business and finance leaders pulled out after Khashoggi's death.

GREENE: Ben Chu, the economics editor of the British newspaper The Independent is at that conference in Riyadh and joins us on the line now. Hi there, Ben.

BEN CHU: Hello, David.

GREENE: Well, talk to me about how the crown prince is handling this moment, obviously wanting to position his country as an open, modern place. But with these allegations, it should be complicated. What is he saying?

CHU: Well, it was a day of high drama and anticipation yesterday because these were the first comments by the crown prince since the murder of Khashoggi earlier this month. So these were the first comments on the incident since it came to light. And the hall here in Riyadh at the convention center was absolutely packed - not only with reporters, but with Saudi officials and business leaders, all waiting to hear what the crown prince, who is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, was going to say on the subject. It took him a while to get into it. But eventually, when he did, he condemned it, as you would expect, as a heinous crime.

He said that there would be - all those responsible would be brought to justice. And I think very interestingly, he said that there are those who are trying to drive a wedge between Turkey and Saudi Arabia over the issue of course because Khashoggi was killed in the embassy in Istanbul. And he struck a very defiant note, saying that those who are trying to drive this wedge will not succeed, not while I am crown prince, not while my father is king. And I think the context of this is that there are those who feel that his position in Saudi Arabia as the de facto ruler is under threat. I think this was a message sent to those people saying that, no, I'm here to stay.

GREENE: Wow. Well, I mean, it sounds like it was a crowd that was receiving what he said well. But we should say, a lot of people who were expected to be there were not there. I mean, there were high-profile speakers, officials who pulled out of this conference because of these allegations. Is that absence being felt?

CHU: The absence is being felt in terms of some of the media partnerships and some of the high-profile speakers and sort of the high-profile panel moderators. That said, there are Western business executives here - just not the ones at the top of the organizations who were on the original billing. I have to say, they're keeping quite a low-key profile here. I think there's a sense of trepidation, a sense of they don't know where this is going to go.

I have to say, I also have spoken to some of them. And they are sticking to the original vision. They think that this is a passing storm. And although, you know, it was a mistake and those perpetrators, as the crown prince said, must be brought to justice, they're not losing faith in the original vision that he laid out two years ago.

GREENE: Is this event really important to Saudi Arabia, this investment conference?

CHU: I think it's hugely important. It's a central part of Prince Salman's vision that he wants to get foreign investment into Saudi. He wants to get foreign expertise into Saudi. He's got a $500 billion project to build a high-tech city in the desert. He needs foreign expertise and money to do that. And this was one of his primary forums for drumming up interest and drumming up people to come to Saudi and do it. And this is why it was so essential that this was - this event did not fail despite all those high-profile pullouts.

GREENE: Ben Chu is the economics editor of the British newspaper The Independent, speaking to us from that investment conference in Riyadh. Thanks so much, Ben.

CHU: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.