A Florida man with a lengthy criminal history was charged Friday with sending explosive devices to high-profile Democrats who have sparred with President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right MORE, a major break in a case that has gained national attention and stoked political divisions ahead of the midterm elections.
The arrest of Cesar Sayoc Jr. came hours after more devices were discovered in three different states, pushing the total found by law enforcement to 13. None of the devices have exploded, but the saga has put officials on alert about the threat of violence connected to the political season.
Sayoc, who was apprehended in Aventura, Fla., was charged with interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of explosives, threats against former presidents and certain other persons, threatening interstate communication and assaulting federal officers. If convicted, Sayoc would face up to 48 years in prison.
The 56-year-old had previously been arrested for theft, fraud, drug possession and making bomb threats in alleged incidents dating back to the 1990s. Social media accounts believed to belong to Sayoc show he attended Trump rallies and made threats against top Democrats, some of whom were sent explosive devices.
Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE announced the charges at a news conference in Washington, in which he sent a message that political violence will not be tolerated.
"Let this be a lesson to anyone, regardless of their political beliefs, that we will bring the full force of law against anyone who attempts to use threats, intimidation and outright violence to further an agenda," Sessions said. "We will find you. We will prosecute you."
The arrest capped off a multi-day manhunt that began after a suspicious package was found Monday at the New York home of George Soros, the billionaire investor who has funded liberal causes. FBI Director Christopher Wray said a fingerprint left on another package addressed to Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersAdvocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Cori Bush hits her stride by drawing on activist past Cawthorn to introduce resolution condemning political violence after warning of 'bloodshed' if elections are 'rigged' MORE (D-Calif.) and DNA evidence on two additional devices led authorities to Sayoc.
Explosive devices were also addressed to former President Obama, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Democrats advance tax plan through hurdles MORE, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPennsylvania GOP authorizes subpoenas in election probe We must mount an all-country response to help our Afghan allies Biden nominates ex-State Department official as Export-Import Bank leader MORE and several other elected Democrats, former administration officials, celebrities and news organizations.
Further signs of a possible motive emerged Friday morning when law enforcement officials seized a white van allegedly belonging to Sayoc. The van's windows were covered in political stickers, one with an image of Clinton with a target over her head and another with the slogan "CNN Sucks.”
Asked why the suspect targeted Democrats, Sessions said, "he appears to be a partisan" but declined to comment further.
"It's too early at this stage for us to be discussing motivation in this particular case," said Wray.
Trump spoke at the White House shortly after Sayoc's arrest, declaring "we must never allow political violence to take root in America" and said the nation "must unify ... together in peace and love and harmony."
The president, addressing the packages publicly for the second time, again did not mention by name any of the Democrats who received devices. Trump has repeatedly pushed back against critics who accused him of fomenting partisan anger with his constant, heated attacks against his opponents.
“Funny how lowly rated CNN, and others, can criticize me at will, even blaming me for the current spate of Bombs and ridiculously comparing this to September 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing, yet when I criticize them they go wild and scream, ‘it’s just not Presidential!’” Trump wrote a tweet sent at 3:14 a.m. Friday.
In a subsequent tweet, Trump lamented that "this 'Bomb' stuff" was slowing Republican "momentum" heading into the Nov. 6 midterms.
By putting "bomb" in quotation marks, Trump appeared to nod at conspiracy theories voiced by his supporters claiming the packages did not pose a real danger and were part of a liberal plot designed to tar Republicans ahead of the midterms.
That notion was dispelled by Trump's hand-picked law enforcement leaders, who outlined the threat posed by Sayoc at Friday's news conference.
Wray said the 13 packages contained "IEDs,” or improvised explosive devices, that consisted of PVC piping, a small clock, wiring, a battery and "potential explosives."
The FBI chief said the devices are still being analyzed to determine their functionality, but stressed "these are not hoax devices."
Officials said it remains unclear if other packages could turn up. Earlier Friday, law enforcement officials said they found packages containing the makeshift explosives that were addressed to Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerDOJ announces agencywide limits on chokeholds and no-knock entries Fighting poverty, the Biden way Top Senate Democrats urge Biden to take immediate action on home confinement program MORE (D-N.J.), Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisLive coverage: California voters to decide Newsom's fate Florida woman faces five years in prison for threatening to kill Harris Australia's COVID overreaction could come to US MORE (D-Calif.), former Director of National Intelligence James ClapperJames Robert ClapperAfghanistan disaster puts intelligence under scrutiny Domestic security is in disarray: We need a manager, now more than ever Will Biden provide strategic clarity or further ambiguity on Taiwan? MORE and Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer.
The package addressed to Clapper was sent to CNN's New York offices, similar to how an earlier device was sent to former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanStill in the game: Will Durham's report throw a slow curveball at key political players? UFOs are an intriguing science problem; Congress must act accordingly How transparency on UFOs can unite a deeply divided nation MORE, an MSNBC contributor, at CNN's address.
Both men have been critical of Trump. The president moved to revoke Brennan's security clearance earlier this year and has accused Clapper of lying to Congress.
The quick arrest of Sayoc was a win for the FBI, which has been embattled by criticism from the left and the right for its handling of the Clinton email investigation during the 2016 election as well as the probe into Russia's election interference.
Wray said he received a congratulatory call from Trump, who has criticized the FBI and last year fired James ComeyJames Brien ComeyGiuliani told investigators it was OK to 'throw a fake' during campaign DOJ watchdog unable to determine if FBI fed Giuliani information ahead of 2016 election Biden sister has book deal, set to publish in April MORE as its director. Trump on Friday praised the agency and other law enforcement organizations for apprehending the suspect.
"It's a needle in a haystack. How do you do this so quickly? They've done an incredible, incredible job and I want to congratulate them," he said at the White House.
—Last updated at 4:47 p.m.