By Carlo Versano
After a week of political finger-pointing and frayed national nerves ahead of a major election, a Florida man is in custody on federal charges that he sent at least 13 live explosive devices to prominent former and current Democratic officials, a news organization, a Hollywood actor, and liberal donors.
The latest device was intercepted in California, en route to Tom Steyer, a Democratic donor who has spent millions advocating for Trump's impeachment.
Federal authorities announced the arrest of Cesar Sayoc, 56, of Aventura, Fla., at the end of a week that began with a crude pipe bomb being discovered in the mailbox of George Soros, a left-leaning philanthropist vilified by the right.
As more bombs were found ー from the leafy suburbs of New York City to sprawling mail sorting facilities in Delaware ー and buildings evacuated, it became clear that a serial bomber was using the U.S. postal service to harm opponents and critics of the president and instill fear in a country wracked by political polarization just under two weeks before a pivotal U.S. election.
"This is a law and order administration," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions, announcing the five counts against Sayoc, which include mailing explosives and making threats against former presidents.
"We will not tolerate such lawlessness," Sessions said. He added that Sayoc "appears to be a partisan."
FBI Director Christopher Wray said investigators were able to pull a fingerprint from one of the two devices mailed to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), which, along with other pieces of DNA, matched Sayoc's DNA from a prior arrest. "Today's arrest doesn't mean we're out of the woods," Wray said, cautioning that more devices may still be undiscovered in the postal system.
Wray made a point of saying that the devices were "not hoax devices" but real explosives. He would not comment on whether any were "functional." It was unclear if Wray was reacting to President Trump, who earlier lamented that the "'Bomb' stuff," using quotations around "bomb," was hurting GOP momentum going into Election Day.
Conspiracy theories have flooded the internet positing that the mail bombs were a "false flag" operation. "False flag" believers, including some high-profile conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, have speculated that the mail bombs were sent by a Democratic sympathizer who wanted to villainize Republicans in the eyes of voters going to the polls.
At least one of them, Geraldo Rivera, backed down after hearing the charges against Sayoc on Friday afternoon: "Never mind; outsmarted myself in conjuring false flag operation designed to hurt @realDonaldTrump & #GOP," he wrote in a tweet. "Actual alleged perp 56-year old #CesarSayoc is apparently stereotype most media assumed: a middle-aged, rabid, extreme right winger w a troubled past & long criminal record."
Sayoc was arrested at an Autozone store in the Miami suburb of Plantation, Fla. Cheddar's J.D. Durkin was there and spoke to the manager of a nearby business who witnessed the arrest. Tom Fiore, the president of West Broward Community Management, told Durkin he knew it was tied to the nationwide manhunt when he saw members of the NYPD in Florida.
Erin Blake, a senior political reporter at the Washington Post who has been following the story all week, told Cheddar that "all the evidence seems to be pointing in the right direction." With the threat subsiding, Blake said, this is a good time to figure out "who we are as a country."
Sessions, Wray, and other federal authorities praised the coordinated response and investigation. Trump added his plaudits for law enforcement on Twitter, though Blake said he doubted the events would lead to much of a cooling off period in terms of the heated political rhetoric, adding, "The president has shown that he is not terribly chastened by this whole thing."