Bombs sent to Trump critics Biden, De Niro as U.S. manhunt intensifies

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The two bombs sent to former Vice President Joe Biden and a third to actor Robert De Niro on Thursday were similar to the devices intended for several other high-profile Democrats and critics of U.S. President Donald Trump, authorities said.

None of the 10 devices exploded but authorities stepped up a manhunt for the serial bomber amid a contentious campaign season ahead of the Nov. 6 elections in which Trump’s Republicans will try to maintain majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.

No one has claimed responsibility and the FBI urged the public to report any tips and be vigilant.

Several of the eight people who were sent bombs – including former President Barack Obama and Trump’s rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton – have been singled out regularly for harsh rhetoric from Trump and right-wing critics.

Leading Democrats said the bombs were a dangerous outgrowth of an antagonistic political atmosphere created by the president.

Trump condemned the bombs but later blamed the media, his frequent foil, for much of the angry tone.

Trump and other Republicans have likened Democrats to an “angry mob,” citing protests at the confirmation hearing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The pipe bombs discovered on Wednesday were similar to the ones sent to Biden and De Niro, a federal official told Reuters. Authorities described the devices as crude while security experts said their goal may have been to create fear rather than to kill.

The FBI said on Thursday one of the two packages sent to Biden – who once said he would have fought Trump if they were in high school – was discovered at a mail facility in his home state of Delaware and the second at another location.

The device intended for De Niro, who received a loud ovation when he hurled an obscenity at Trump at the Tony Awards last June, was sent to one of his properties in New York City.

As investigators sought the would-be bomber, police evacuated a building adjacent to the U.S. Capitol that houses lawmakers’ offices around midday but did not cite a reason for the action.

TRUMP BLAMES MEDIA

At a Wisconsin rally Wednesday night Trump, who has denounced news media organizations as an “enemy of the people,” called attention to “how nice I’m behaving tonight” but on Thursday morning he attacked the media.

The Tribeca Film Center building is pictured after a suspicious package was found inside a building which houses a restaurant owned by actor Robert De Niro in New York City, New York, U.S., October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

“A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,” Trump wrote. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”

Also sent packages were Eric Holder, who served as attorney general under Obama; former CIA Director John Brennan, who had his security clearance withdrawn after frequently lambasting Trump; prominent Democratic Party donor George Soros; and California Representative Maxine Waters, another outspoken Trump critic. Two packages were sent to Waters, who Trump has called “an extraordinarily low IQ person.”

Several politicians, including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, described the package bombs as an act of terrorism.

“Someone is trying to intimidate. Someone is trying to quash voices in this country using violence,” De Blasio said. “I am confident that we will find the perpetrator or perpetrators.”

The CNN bureau in New York received a package addressed to Brennan, who has appeared as a CNN analyst, leading police to evacuate the Time Warner building in a busy Manhattan neighborhood near Central Park.

The package sent to CNN, which Trump has frequently derided for its coverage of him, contained an envelope of white powder that experts were analyzing, New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill said.

Slideshow (8 Images)

INCREASED SECURITY

Some major media outlets in New York, including the New York Times, increased security on Thursday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told CNN some of the packages in his state were hand-delivered and that authorities were scrutinizing security camera videos for signs of the bomber.

Trump told the Wisconsin rally his government would conduct “an aggressive investigation.”

“Any acts or threats of political violence are an attack on our democracy itself,” Trump said. “We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony.”

Last week, Trump, who joined other Republicans in accusing Democrats of encouraging “mob” tactics, heaped praise on a Montana congressional candidate who assaulted a reporter during his successful 2017 campaign.

The first package turned up on Monday and was addressed to Soros, the billionaire financier and advocate of liberal, open-border values who is a frequent target of right-wing conspiracy theories.

The FBI said on Wednesday the packages consisted of a manila envelope with a bubble-wrap interior containing “potentially destructive devices.” Each bore a computer-printed address label and six “Forever” postage stamps, the FBI said.

Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mark Hosenball in Washington and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Jeffrey Benkoe

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