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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Suspect Arrested in Package Bomb Investigation; Bomb Suspect Had "CNN Sucks" Sign at Trump Rally. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired October 26, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with the breaking news, authorities charging 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc of Florida with five federal crimes in connection to the 13 explosive packages discovered this week.
Law enforcement tracking him down from a fingerprint and DNA found on the packages. The director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, today affirming that those IEDs were real, they were not a hoax.
Among the charges, threats against former presidents, the criminal charges document accusing Sayoc of transporting -- quote -- "an explosive with the knowledge and intent that it would be used to kill, injure and intimidate individuals."
They say the suspect -- quote -- "knowingly and willfully threatened to kill and inflict bodily harm upon a former president and a member of the immediate family of a former president."
Now, Sayoc was not known to Secret Service prior to this, but he does have a criminal history, which notably includes a 2002 arrest by Miami police where apparently he threatened to blow up a Florida utility company, saying it would be -- quote -- "worse than September 11," according to the police report at the time.
Earlier today, Sayoc's van was seized by law enforcement. That van features on its side and its windows celebrate story images of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and disparaging images of President Trump's perceived enemies, including a "CNN Sucks" sticker on the side of the van, CNN being an intended recipient of two of the devices sent through the mail, a list of intended recipients that is entirely made up of individuals whom President Trump has attacked and demonized repeatedly, critics of the president, including Hillary Clinton, two former Democratic presidents, members of Congress and the Obama administration, billionaire financier George Soros and actor Robert De Niro.
The president insists that his rhetoric has had no influence or played any role in the bombings.
Let's get right to CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin live outside the FBI field office in Florida.
And, Drew, authorities just minutes ago underlining again these are not hoax devices, these are real.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not, containing all the components or most of the components of a real bomb, including potentially explosive material.
Unknown at this point is if they could have detonated. We do know that the FBI brought this person in for questioning, Sayoc. We believe he was questioned here at least briefly, cooperative initially, telling investigators he didn't intend to blow up anybody or hurt anybody. He has since gotten a lawyer, Jake, and the questioning has stopped.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Tonight, authorities believe they have the person responsible for at least a dozen package bombs discovered all across the U.S.
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: Each device consisted of roughly six inches of PVC pipe, a small clock, a battery, some wiring, and what is known as energetic material, which is essentially potential explosives and material that give off heat and energy through a reaction to heat, shock or friction.
GRIFFIN: Fifty-six-year-old Cesar Sayoc is in federal custody, arrested in South Florida. Authorities also impounding this white van, taking every precaution, unaware of what may be inside.
MAN: Yes, we just took him into custody. We're concerned reference signal 46 (INAUDIBLE) and we want the road shut down, and then we will start evacuating.
GRIFFIN: That van covered in political stickers with images of President Donald Trump, targets on President Obama and others, as well as a sticker saying "CNN Sucks."
Here he is at a Trump campaign rally last year holding a sign saying the same thing. Sayoc's social media accounts feature numerous postings from Trump rallies and countless more about politics. The various accounts read like a target list for those who've received package bombs this week.
He trolls President Obama, tweeting about Bobby Kennedy with photos disparaging the Kennedy family. He mocks Vice President Biden's 9/11 message with a photo of his Delaware home and pictures that suggest firebombing it.
He blames former Attorney General Eric Holder for the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, even threatening death. He vilifies California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, tweeting bad memes and encouraging his like-minded followers to attend an event with her in California. A denier of the Parkland High School shooting massacre, Sayoc accusers
Democratic fund-raiser George Soros for funding a cover-up and paying students like David Hogg to pretend they were victims. And public records show Sayoc had an extensive criminal record dating back as far as 1991.
The most notable offense? A 2002 charge of threatening to discharge a destructive device at a Florida utility company. Just recently, a package addressed to Democratic donor Tom Steyer was found in California.
And earlier today, one intended for former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper addressed to CNN in New York was intercepted at a New York facility, and another addressed to New Jersey Senator Cory Booker was found in Florida.
GRIFFIN: And, Jake, Sayoc apparently was living in his van, kicked out of a home of his parents.
And that's where authorities found him in that van, apparently living on the streets here in South Florida -- Jake.
TAPPER: That van festooned with the carnage collage.
Drew Griffin, thanks so much.
Let's discuss all of this with our law enforcement experts.
So, Phil, the criminal complaint identifies these devices as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. FBI Director Wray described them in detail, not hoaxes.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That's right, not only not hoaxes. If you look at the number of them and the potential that if any one of them would have gone off, you're talking about individual targets.
But if that's in a mailroom, there's multiple people who are risk here. The other thing I would point out is that if this subject weren't caught, in terms of the fact that these weren't hoaxes, and that individual is watching the news and deciding, I want to amp this up, you cannot guarantee me over time that someone who has the intent to hurt people, as witnessed by his sending whatever it is, 14, 15 devices, wouldn't have transitioned over time and said, OK, now, as he threatened to do, as you talked about earlier, as he threatened to do in Florida before, he might have amped it up and said, I'm going to change my game and the devices are going to get more lethal.
Thank God they got him now, because once he switched on, I think this could have gone ugly.
TAPPER: Uglier, absolutely. Josh Campbell, all of the individuals targeted are Democratic leaders
or high-profile critics of the president. Packages to Clapper and Brennan were sent to them care of CNN, which the president has singled out for particular criticism.
We saw what's believed to be his van covered with images of President Trump in a celebratory fashion, political stickers. It seems clear -- and the attorney general said as much -- that this was politically motivated, in all likelihood.
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It does seem that way, Jake.
And we have been saying from the beginning, noting these commonalities in the targets, said, you have Democrats, progressives, people who have, you know, received a lot of ire from the president, both in rallies and on Twitter. So there are a lot of commonalities there.
Obviously, until we know fully the motive or the person actually admits to what was going through his mind or investigators at least have some kind of comfort level to be able to come out and say this is our assessment, we won't know for sure. But it was interesting, actually, from that press conference today, two key points.
You mentioned one of them, the fact that the FBI director was saying that this is not a hoax, which kind of blasts past this idea, this notion that this is some type of false flag or other theories that were out there.
But the second part is what Attorney General Sessions said. As you mentioned, he said this person appears to be a partisan, which is an incredible thing to say, because that's him coming out and essentially confirming what a lot of us have been suspecting.
And, as you mentioned, lastly, that van is going to be a lot of -- there's a lot of key evidence there when you try to get into the mind- set. Just look at those images again. Again, we can't draw a line through all of these data points. But they all seem to be leading in one direction.
TAPPER: And, Evy, this isn't necessarily over. He was charged with 13 IED packages. But FBI Director Christopher Wray acknowledged there could be more in transit right now.
EVY POUMPOURAS, FORMER U.S. SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Yes, absolutely. That's absolutely correct.
So everyone's going to be on the lookout now to see, are there any other packages? And people are on edge, people who are actually out there and vocal about how they feel politically. And so there's concern.
So U.S. Postal Service will be out there looking for these. I think also celebrities and certain people who have been vocal, they will be more concerned about their mail as well. And I think it's going to be collective effort, as far as even the U.S. Secret Service and the protectees they have, being really thorough in what is coming into the mail.
And as well politicians, Capitol Police, I think this is going to be a collective effort on all law enforcement part to work effectively to make sure that we are able to detect any devices that could be coming in.
So this is not over yet.
TAPPER: Phil, the criminal complaint clearly lays out how similar these packages were, the same misspellings, same number of the same stamps. So there was a clear pattern.
MUDD: There was.
I mean, I want to hold off for a moment here. When you look at that kind of information, you're going to draw back and say, especially given the number of clues this person left behind, maybe they weren't that sophisticated.
But until I see everything from a cell phone, a laptop, social media accounts, even whether this person participated in sort of clubs, I can't guarantee you that the simplicity in those packages, the fact that they all look like they're made by the same person, I wouldn't guarantee yet -- maybe tomorrow -- that nobody else knew about that.
So in addition to talk about what just happened, Jake, we got to make sure for at least a few more hours we're confident that there's no more out there, but also that nobody else knew about that. And I wouldn't guarantee that yet.
TAPPER: And, Josh, this man had a prior criminal background. The Secret Service that they'd never heard of him before, but Miami police did. There's a 2002 to arrest. He threatened to blow up a utility company, saying it would be worse than September 11.
That obviously seems significant.
It's really, really painting a picture of somebody here who is troubled, who's had run-in with law enforcement. And it also shows how advanced law enforcement has come, because if you read through the criminal complaint, actually, there was DNA that was taken from one of the devices that was compared to the FBI's repository of criminal history.
And his DNA was actually collected back when he was arrested in the past. And that was one of the ways that they were able to identify this match, so, obviously, a troubled person who's had a run-in with law enforcement. It really tells us what we're dealing with here.
One thing that's interesting, Jake, is at that press conference, we did not hear the T-word, terrorism. At least as of this point, we don't have our officials saying that this is domestic terrorism. That could change at any moment. So perhaps it's too soon to read too much into that.
But, again, this appears to be someone, at least based on the totality of what we know now, at least in the public domain, who was acting based on some type of political motivation, which that's the definition of terrorism.
It'll be interesting to see whether the Justice Department actually moves forward along those lines.
TAPPER: And, Evy, were told this man was not known to the Secret Service, where you used to work. Is that unusual?
POUMPOURAS: Now, that's not unusual, because they have to make an actual threat or show some type of unusual interest in someone that we're protecting.
So if he's never done that in the past, then there would be no reason for him to come up on the U.S. Secret Service radar. So that has to occur for the U.S. Secret Service to know about an individual.
But, of course, you can surely bet that they're going to be looking through video footage and data. They're going to want to know, has this person been around our protectees in the past? Has he come -- how many rallies has he come to? Has he been -- can we -- multiple sightings in different areas or events?
Has he been following any of our protectees around? So they're going to actually look into this to see historically if this is somebody that may did slip through the cracks or they didn't notice. And then they're going to ramp this up, because another thing you're going to be concerned about, is this now something that other people are going to get the idea, like, maybe I should be doing this, the copycats and that?
And so I think everybody's going to be ramped up at this point and really be looking at something like this. And historically U.S. Secret Service is always looking at packages for the protectees that we do.
MUDD: Jake, on this issue of copycats, nobody's talking about it. But that is the first thing that sprung to mind for me.
I remember being at the White House on the anthrax letters time period back in the fall of 2001, and then I shifted over the bureau. I shifted to the bureau four years later, and they were still receiving and responding to copycat anthrax letters four years later.
Now, most of it -- or none of it, as I recall, was anthrax. But people just got white powder. I thought we saw in one of these instances with one of these devices there might have been powder associated with it. But my point is, there are people out there, energized people who will look at this, maybe people who are a little bit mentally unbalanced, and say, he had the courage to do it. I have been waiting for years. Maybe I should have the courage to do it as well.
We're not out of the woods yet here.
TAPPER: Let's hope not. And it's certainly not courageous to send anonymous packages to people who you don't like. Thanks, one and all, for being here.
New information about the troubling past of the suspect, including multiple arrests, one involving a threat to blow up something, making it worse than 9/11, according to a police report.
Plus, we're going to talk to the former director of national intelligence, General James Clapper, who was one of the intended targets of the bomber, as we just found out this morning.
Stay with us.
[16:17:18] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we are back with the breaking news.
You are looking at new video showing the suspect, Cesar Sayoc, holding a sign that says "CNN sucks" as well as a lot of other nonsense in there. He was at a Trump rally in February 2017. The 56-year-old Florida resident today was arrested and charged with sending a series of explosive devices, 13 IEDs to prominent critics of President Trump this week. Sayoc was well-known to law enforcement in Florida, and has been arrested at least eight times.
CNN's Rene Marsh has been digging into his background.
And, Rene, his Twitter account is filled with attacks on a lot of the same people he sent the packages to, including CNN?
RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. I mean, extremely political social media account. And to your point, Jake, he has negative tweets pretty much for every target that was sent one of those packages.
We do want to warn you, some of these tweets are highly offensive, but we are showing them simply because we want to give you a sense of what we are learning about the suspect. So, here are some of his tweets. He goes after former President Obama posting a meme with Obama's head on his wife's body. A meme of Hillary Clinton being arrested by the president and the vice president with the caption "law and order" that you see there in the middle. Even accuses Democratic fundraiser George Soros of working with Hitler. I mean, it goes on and on. Again, CNN is tweeted as well.
You know, when you go through, you can see he certainly does have a political leaning. The criminal complaint even points out his use of social media and just a couple of days after that package, suspicious package was discovered and recovered from George Soros' house, he was also tweeting. Tweeting negative tweets about Soros, Obama, and others. We do know he also had a Facebook presence as well. And Facebook
confirms to CNN that users complained about some of those posts and they actually removed some of those posts. But they say it didn't rise to the level of calling authorities. But we know that he registered for the first time in Florida to vote in 2016. He voted in the 2016 election, and he registered as a Republican.
But, again, Jake, on his Twitter you can see he is a strong supporter of President Trump. He tweets @RealDonaldTrump several times, even wishing him happy birthday.
TAPPER: Right. No, obviously, he was actually trying to get approval of President Trump in some of the tweets that he sent to the president.
In addition to this huge social media footprint, at least two Twitter accounts and on Facebook, he had a police record. One of his arrests in 2002 I believe was for threatening to blow up a Florida utility, quote, worst than September 11th?
[16:20:00] MARSH: Yes. So, yes, I mean, we spent some time going through his background as well. I mean, he has a string of criminal events, going back to the early 1990s. But the most notable is that one in 2002 that you bring up there. Miami police say that they arrested him because he made a bomb threat.
His attorney actually spoke to CNN and said that he grew frustrated with this electric company because they turned off his power. And when he got so frustrated that they wouldn't turn it back on, he threatened to blow them up. And I'm quoting his attorney now. He says that Cesar Sayoc said, quote, I bet if I threatened to blow up your office you would turn it back on.
I do want to note that this attorney says that he didn't believe there was any teeth -- there was no -- he didn't plan or have any intention to actually pull that off. Nevertheless, the attorney confirms he said that.
Other things showing up in his criminal history, everything from grand theft, battery, fraud and drug possession.
TAPPER: Do we know anything about his financial situation or where he lived?
MARSH: We do know that in 2012, he did file for bankruptcy. And in going through those filings, it lists that he lived with his mom, and he owns no furniture. It seems like he was in financial straits because it also says that he owned -- he owed almost $17,000 in debt. So, he owed a lot of money and could not make the payment, and that's all the information that we have in his bankruptcy filing.
But, again, I mean, we see how everything unfolded today. But to your point earlier, authorities in Florida were familiar with him, because this man had many run-ins with them.
TAPPER: All right. Rene Marsh, thank you so much. Joining me now is the former director of national intelligence under
President Obama, retired General James Clapper, who was one of the intended recipients of an explosive device, one of the ones found this morning, care of CNN. It was not delivered.
General, thanks for joining us.
As -- put on your director of national intelligence hat for a second. What are the most pressing questions you have right now?
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, I think the first thing is, are there any other packages out there. And I'm sure that's what he's being asked about. And is there anyone else involved or was he a lone actor.
So, to me, those would be the two key questions that I would want to pursue. And I'm sure they are being pursued.
TAPPER: So given that he was arrested, really, just a few hours ago, we know a lot about him, partly because of his social media footprint, partly because of his bankruptcy filing, his criminal record. Given all that we've learned, what sticks out to you the most?
CLAPPER: Well, what sticks out to me is the phenomenal work done by our law enforcement community, most prominently, the FBI, who, you know, has taken some hits, unfairly so. And once again, they have shown, demonstrated their tremendous dedication and professionalism. As well as the great New York Police Department, secret service, and some unsung heroes and heroines in the United States Postal Service.
And I think about those people, those great men and women and what they did to turn this around this quickly, and I sure take assurance from that and I think all Americans should.
TAPPER: Yes, amen to that, no doubt.
Sources tell CNN that when the suspect was arrested, he told investigators that the pipe bombs wouldn't have hurt anyone, and that he didn't want to hurt anyone. Do you buy it? What does it tell you about his motives?
CLAPPER: Well, that's -- as one of the potential recipients, let me tell you, it is not a fun thing to turn on the television and see a pipe bomb, whether it's functional or not, addressed to you. So I have taken a cue from Director Wray's press conference, that these devices were not hoaxes and that they could have been activated.
TAPPER: You said you weren't surprised when a package intended for you was discovered this morning. Was that just because your colleague, former CIA Director John Brennan, had been sent one? What was the reason?
CLAPPER: That was principally the reason. I figured that if John got one, I wouldn't be far behind.
TAPPER: In light of these packages, we know federal agencies are now reviewing the security protocols involving former cabinet level and other high-profile officials. Do you think the level of security around you and others like you needs to change? Do you need secret service protection, 24/7?
CLAPPER: Well, neither John nor I got our protection from Secret Service. But I'm sure that's something that will be under review. I'll be candid. I don't feel particularly threatened right now. I have engaged with my former protected detail, and I think the actions they took are sensible and prudent.
Now, whether there should be something more elaborate, that's -- that will be up to them to judge. And, of course, when you do these things, this has huge resource implications that will have to be considered, as well.
TAPPER: Now that we know who the suspect is, and we know that from all appearances and from what Attorney General Sessions says, he's a partisan, a strong supporter of President Trump, you see his social media profile, you see the stickers and the signs that he's held that are hostile to people who are in the Obama administration, hostile to CNN, hostile to George Soros and others, do you hold President Trump and his rhetoric accountable in any way -- in any way for this threat?
CLAPPER: Well, first, Jake, I think I have to say that you cannot relate anything that the president has said or done directly to the actions that this guy took. And we won't -- you know, maybe will come out later in just exactly what his motivations were, and what inspired him to take these extraordinary actions.
I do think, though, that all politicians are responsible for toning town the rhetoric, where possible. And first among those politicians is the president of the United States, who occupies the most influential bully pulpit, not only in this country, but in the world. And you can accuse other people of saying extreme things. But really, the leadership for this starts with the president of the United States. He has to set the tone.
TAPPER: All right. Retired general, former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, thanks so much for your time. We're glad you're safe, sir. Thanks for joining us.
CLAPPER: Thanks, Jake. Thank you.
TAPPER: A closer look at what was on the outside of the suspect's van and what that might be telling investigators about the suspect's motives. Stay with us.