International desk, October 24: Police intercepted suspected explosive devices sent to former U.S. President Barack Obama, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the CNN bureau in New York that apparently targeted figures disparaged by right-wing critics two weeks before U.S. congressional elections.
With the country deeply polarized under President Donald Trump, the packages brought a new level of tension to political contests that will decide whether Democrats can challenge the majorities now held by Trump’s Republicans in Congress.
The package to Clinton was found late Tuesday while the one addressed to Obama was recovered early Wednesday, both during routine off-site mail screenings, the Secret Service said. Obama and Clinton were not at risk, they said.
A bomb was delivered earlier this week to the suburban New York home of George Soros, a major Democratic Party donor.
The Time Warner Center housing a CNN newsroom in New York was evacuated “out of an abundance of caution” after a suspicious package was received in the mail room, CNN President Jeff Zucker said in a note to employees. He said CNN was checking its bureaus worldwide.
New York police issued an emergency alert urging people around the building, which is on the southern edge of Central Park, to “shelter in place.” Police later said they had safely removed the suspicious device from the Time Warner Center.
CNN reported the package it received was addressed to former CIA director John Brennan, a periodic guest commentator on the cable network.
Brennan, who led the CIA under Obama, has been an outspoken critic of Trump, calling the president’s performance during a July joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki “nothing short of treasonous.”
Trump in August revoked Brennan’s security clearance in retaliation for the criticism.
“These terrorizing acts are despicable, and anyone responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said. “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.”
Trump was briefed on the suspicious packages “and we’re taking it very seriously,” said a senior White House official.
In Florida, the building that houses the office of U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a former Democratic Party national chairwoman, was evacuated after a suspicious package arrived in the mail, WFOR-TV in Miami reported, citing Sunrise police.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers condemned the attempted attacks, saying political violence has no place in the United States, even as some Democrats said Trump’s rhetoric was escalating tensions.
“Words matter. Leadership matters. This is the country @realDonaldTrump has created, and he must condemn such acts of terrorism in the strongest terms,” Democratic U.S. Representative David Price tweeted.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, called the acts “reprehensible,” adding, “We cannot tolerate any attempt to terrorize public figures.”
The package addressed to Clinton at her home in the New York suburb of Chappaqua was an explosive device, the New York Times reported.
Former President Bill Clinton was home when the device was intercepted at a Secret Service facility not near the Clintons’ home, MSNBC reported. It said Hillary Clinton was in Florida attending fundraising events.
A federal law enforcement official told Reuters that more than one of the packages appears to have the same construction or design. Another source told Reuters the FBI was still evaluating whether the suspicious packages contained dangerous or explosive materials.
The Chappaqua Patch, a local news website, citing a law enforcement official, reported the devices sent to Soros, Obama and Clinton appeared to be a pipe bomb. “Not fancy but definitely functional,” the official said.
The New York Police Department’s bomb squad said the package at the Time Warner Center, which also houses stores and restaurants, appeared to be an explosive device, CNN reported.
The discovery of the packages came after a small bomb was found earlier this week at the home of billionaire liberal donor Soros in the New York City suburb of Katonah, about 10 miles (16 km) from the Clintons’ home.
“Nothing made it to their home,” Bill Clinton’s spokesman said in an email. A spokesman for Hillary Clinton referred queries to the Secret Service statement.