All four “potential explosive devices” sent to Hillary Clinton, former President Obama, billionaire philanthropist George Soros and CNN at Manhattan’s Time Warner Center are thought to be linked, law enforcement officials say.
Two of the devices — one addressed to Clinton’s Chappaqua home, one to Obama in Washington, D.C. — were intercepted by the U.S. Secret Service. Both were discovered at off-site locations and neither the former secretary of state nor former president were ever at risk, officials said.
Another suspicious package — one addressed to ex-CIA chief John Brennan, now an MSNBC contributor — that appeared similar to the other three forced an evacuation of CNN at the Time Warner Center Wednesday. Columbus Circle was shut down and NYC’s emergency alert system said at 11:10 a.m. that anyone in the vicinity of Columbus and Eighth Avenue should shelter in place immediately.
Vice President Mike Pence took to Twitter to condemn the “cowardly” and “despicable” acts and to thank the Secret Service and FBI for their response. President Donald Trump did not issue a statement of his own but did retweet Pence roughly 50 minutes later and added “I agree wholeheartedly!”
Law enforcement officials say at least three of the parcels — those addressed to Clinton, Obama and Soros — had a manila outer packaging and the devices had stamps on them. The devices appear to be working explosives, sources say, but final analysis is pending further testing. News 4 obtained an image of one of the devices; it appeared to be crude. The signature is nearly the same on all three packages and at least two listed the return address as former Democratic National Committee chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Schultz’s office in Florida also received a possible suspicious package; that is under investigation.
The Secret Service says it recovered the Clinton package, addressed to her home in Chappaqua, late Tuesday. She is in Florida for a fundraiser, though former President Bill Clinton was home at the time. The parcel addressed to Obama in Washington, D.C., was intercepted early Wednesday.
“The packages were immediately identified during routine mail screening procedures as potential explosive devices and were appropriately handled as such,” Secret Service said in a statement. “Both packages were intercepted prior to being delivered to their intended location. The protectees did not receive the packages nor were they at risk of receiving them.”
Secret Service says it has initiated a “full scope criminal investigation that will leverage all available federal, state, and local resources to determine the source of the packages and identify those responsible.”
No one was hurt in the Soros case, which happened at his home in Bedford, about 10 miles apart from Chappaqua.
A Clinton spokesman referred questions to the Secret Service, but reiterated that, unlike the Soros case, no package actually got to the Clinton home as two senior law enforcement officials initially reported.
In Soros’ case, an employee noticed the package, put it in a wooded area and called police, who alerted the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives. A law enforcement source told NBC 4 New York that the device contained explosive powder; it was detonated as a precaution.
Investigators are reviewing surveillance video to determine whether the package was sent via mail or otherwise delivered.
The FBI is working with police to figure out who sent the Soros device, which a senior law enforcement official said was similar to a pipe bomb. A law enforcement source says evidence was sent to the FBI lab in Quantico for testing. The FBI’s New York office said Wednesday that its Joint Terrorism Task Force was working with federal, state and local partners on the investigation. ATF is also investigating.
President Trump was briefed on the situation.
“We condemn the attempted violent attacks recently made against President Obama, President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, and other public figures. These terrorizing acts are despicable, and anyone responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. The United States Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies are investigating and will take all appropriate actions to protect anyone threatened by these cowards,” the White House said in a statement.
CNN officials said they were checking bureaus around the world “out of a complete abundance of caution.
“We are working with authorities to determinte the severity of the situation,” CNN chief Jeff Zucker said in an email to employees.
Law enforcement sources told News 4 that the package addressed to Brennan included a pipe with black tape and wires.
SOROS GOT ONE FIRST
Soros, a billionaire who made his fortune in hedge funds, has donated heavily to liberal causes and is vilified on the right. He is also the subject of many unfounded conspiracy theories. Recently, conservative critics have, without evidence, accused him of secretly financing a caravan of Central American migrants to make their way north toward Mexico and the United States. Others have falsely accused him of being a Nazi collaborator during World War II, when he was a child in Hungary.
Activists frequently post the addresses of homes he owns in Westchester County on social media, sometimes accompanied by menacing messages.
Soros’ foundation, The Open Society Foundation, released a statement Tuesday condemning “the politics of hate that dominates our discourse today.”