Return to Transcripts main page


Federal Authorities Update Package Bomb Investigation; Suspect Arrested in Bomb Plot. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 26, 2018 - 15:00   ET



JAMES O'NEILL, NEW YORK POLICE COMMISSIONER: I couldn't be more proud of the work each of them did in this case and the work they do every day.

We said from the outset that we would identify and arrest the person or people responsible for these acts. We could make that promise because of the confidence we have in our ability to investigate in a deliberate and precise manner.

Today's arrest means that New Yorkers and indeed people across our nation are safe. But, as Director Wray said, there might be more packages out there, so everyone still needs to take caution.

And if you see something out there, call 911. And in New York City, we have a number also, 1-888-NYCSAFE.

I want to thank the members of the public who contacted authorities with information during this investigation. New Yorkers don't back down. They step up every single time.

We have been through things like this before and much worse. I'm never surprised by the unmatched resiliency our city always displays.

Thank you also to the media for broadcasting the photos the NYPD released, because it certainly helped workers around our city identify additional packages and helped move forward with this investigation.

Thank you.

GEOFFREY BERMAN, U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Good afternoon, I'm Geoff Berman, United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Five days ago, on October 22, law enforcement recovered the first device from a residence of George Soros. Over the last five days, as more packages were found across the country delivered to former presidents, federal officials and public figures, our law enforcement community, federal, state and local, has worked day and night, together with other prosecutors from my office, to identify and apprehend the perpetrator. That has now happened.

Today, my office has filed a complaint against Cesar Sayoc, charging him with multiple federal crimes for his insidious conduct. Specifically, the defendant is charged in five counts that include illegally mailing and interstate transportation of explosives and threatening a former president of the United States.

As alleged in the complaint, the defendant mailed destructive devices to citizens of this country who currently hold or have held our highest public offices, President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Attorney General Eric Holder, Congressperson Maxine Waters, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The defendant's conduct as charged is cowardly and reprehensible and totally anathema to our democracy. And now the defendant faces a potential total of 58 years in prison.

This is an ongoing and active investigation. We will not rest until these crimes are fully investigated and the defendant or defendants are brought to justice.

I want to take a moment to thank our partners, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the FBI, the NYPD, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, New York State Police, the ATF, the hardworking career prosecutors and investigators in the Terrorism Unit of the Southern District of New York.

And I would like to thank the extraordinary cooperation we received from the Southern District of Florida. Thank you.

GARY BARKSDALE, DEPUTY CHIEF, U.S. POSTAL INSPECTION SERVICE: Good afternoon. I'm Gary Barksdale, deputy chief, United States Postal Inspection Service.

First of all, like many of my colleagues, I would like to thank all of our federal partners who participated in this nationwide investigation, FBI, ATF, Secret Service, New York Police Department, and the many state and local law enforcement agencies who provided valuable assistance.

Truly, I can say this is the way law enforcement is supposed to work. This was a massive investigation. It was a collaborative effort and was well-coordinated, with each agency bringing a special expertise to the table.

But I would also like to recognize the many postal employees who we think of as our eyes and ears. We appreciate the diligence and awareness. In fact, it was a postal employee this morning that alerted us to one of these suspicious parcels.

We in the Postal Inspection Service have a great deal of expertise in responding to investigating suspicious mail. Postal inspectors are trained to respond and investigate dangerous mail items in the mail.

These dangerous mail investigation specialists are highly proficient in the use of state-of-the-art equipment. Fortunately, in this case, none of the devices detonated and there was no injuries. However, postal inspectors will remain diligent and monitor postal

facilities to determine whether there are additional mailings that have not yet been discovered.

We will continue to work with our law enforcement to ensure the safety of the mail, our postal employees, our customers and the American public.


RANDOLPH "TEX" ALLES, U.S. SECRET SERVICE DIRECTOR: Good afternoon. Tex Alles, the Secret Service director.

Just as the other speakers have emphasized, I just want to comment on the importance of cooperation here. We were in the forefront of this with receiving early packages on Tuesday and Wednesday and fully engaged with the Joint Terrorism Task Force and other federal partners.

And just want to acknowledge the great work done by the FBI, ATF, the Postal Service inspectors, New York City Police, Capitol Police, and then the different states involved, New York, Florida, California, Delaware, Maryland, and even the District of Columbia.

So -- and I also want to spend just a few minutes to emphasize how seriously the Secret Service takes these threats, how important it is to provide protection to our protectees, including former presidents and the current president and vice president, and just thank our agents and officers and analysts who not only investigate cyber and financial crimes, but provide world-class protection to our protectees.

I think they have done outstanding work here.

I would just also remark that, since Tuesday, along with Director Wray, this has been our number one focus of the agency, is to find the perpetrators of these incidents and to bring them to justice. Thank you.

QUESTION: Mr. Wray, can you tell along the lines of how fast this moved? When did your folks isolate the fingerprint?

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: So, each of the devices was being brought through what are called total containment vehicles to our lab.

And they were coming kind of seriatim. And we received some of them. The first two that we received were the devices that were sent to former President Obama and the D.C. package that was sent to Congresswoman Waters.

And so the analysis began on that I think yesterday. And we were starting to receive information over the course of the last 24-36 hours.

QUESTION: So, it was found yesterday?

WRAY: I don't have the exact time, but that's the ballpark.

QUESTION: Question for Director Wray and Attorney General Sessions.

Can you describe your reaction to when you got word that there was a latent fingerprint that might lead to a suspect? And also could you give us a reason why the devices may not have exploded?

WRAY: What was the second part of the question?

QUESTION: Any sense of why the devices didn't explode.

WRAY: Oh, on the first part, my reaction to hearing that we had a possible match just validated my unbelievable faith and confidence in the men and women of law enforcement, and in particular of the FBI lab.

There's a reason why the FBI's lab is known as one of the very best in the world. And the folks who work there are extraordinary. And once I knew that they had a print, I was pretty confident that we would be able to find the right person.

As far as the devices themselves, it's important to say, as is in the complaint, that even if the devices -- and we're still trying to determine whether or not they were functional, as they say. So we're doing all kinds of analysis on that to make a definitive determination. But they did contain energetic material, which if subjected to the right combination of heat or shock or friction could be dangerous to the public, and the public should treat any device like that accordingly.

QUESTION: Attorney General Sessions, could you tell us plainly, why was he targeting Democrats?

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't know, other than what you might normally expect.

He may have been a part -- appears to be a partisan. But that would be determines by the facts as the case goes forward. And I'm not able to comment on that.

QUESTION: Is he cooperating?

WRAY: We're not going to be discussing where the investigation stands at this time.

QUESTION: I'm just curious what role you think the rhetoric in the political arena might have played in this. And is that making -- giving you more work?

WRAY: We're focused not on the talk, but on the work.

The work of the men and women of law enforcement here and the work that was done over the last week is something that should make every American proud and grateful. And it's too early at this stage for us to be discussing motivation in this particular case. QUESTION: Just a follow-up. Are you concerned that nasty political

rhetoric might motivate someone who is predisposed to violence to act out?

WRAY: We're concerned about people committing acts of violence under any motivation.

QUESTION: Director, do you believe that he's the only one involved in this campaign? And you continue to make reference to other devices that might be out there. Do you have any sense of how many that are still in the street?

WRAY: So, as I said at the outset, and I think the attorney general said as well, this is very much an active and ongoing investigation. We do believe that we have caught the right guy.


But we also know this is an ongoing investigation, and there's a lot of work still to be done, which means there's plenty of unanswered questions.


QUESTION: When did you first brief President Trump on having the suspect in custody? And if you can say, what was his reaction?

WRAY: I'm not going to get in our discussions with the president.

I will say that I received a nice congratulatory call from the president shortly before heading over here and saw his remarks that he made at the White House.

And I think he,like every American, is and should be proud of the unbelievable work that was done, not just by the FBI, but by all of our law enforcement partners across multiple states in this.

I think Commission O'Neill said it well. The partnerships that exist in the law enforcement profession right now in this country are extraordinary, are better than they have ever been, and it's exactly what the doctor ordered for this country at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so that's a wrap on the news conference.

So, we now know that Cesar Sayoc is facing five federal crimes, facing up to 58 years in prison if convicted. Some more details hearing from Chris Wray, the FBI chief, saying these 13 bombs are not a hoax and referring to them as IEDs over and over.

And also in this criminal complaint, IEDs, improvised explosive devices. And learning more details about the fingerprints, the possible DNA that they were able to use to track him through previous arrests, through some of these packages. It is extraordinary, the work of law enforcement here.

So let me bring in first, Jennifer Rodgers, to you on these five federal crimes, five federal charges, interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of explosives, threats against former presidents and certain other persons, threatening interstate communications, assaulting current and former federal officers.

These are the five. And we remarked no mention of weapons of mass destruction, so not taking the terrorism route. Why?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think because it's so early, right? They just picked him up.

All they really need to do right now is get him detained and they have 10 days to indict him. So I think we will know a lot more when we see what the final charges are here. You heard them say they didn't want to talk about motivations. They're still exploring all of that.

BALDWIN: Still too early?

RODGERS: You wouldn't charge domestic terrorism unless you had that motivation piece, because that's essentially what domestic terrorism is.

BALDWIN: Why is it so significant, Josh Campbell, for the FBI chief to refer to these bombs as IEDs?


There were actually two things -- there was a lot of detail obviously in that press conference. The two striking things for the larger narrative on what this may or may not be, one coming from the FBI director, saying these are not hoax devices, the other coming from the attorney general, saying this person appears to be a partisan, which is very surprising, because he's kind of weighing in on that maybe motivating piece.

But he also so said that there's a lot we don't know, we're going to continue to gather that.

With respect to the devices and the definitive statement by the FBI director, there's been some debate whether these were inert or whether this was just some kind of hoax. There were also these ridiculous claims out there maybe this was a false flag operation, that there was a liberal who was pretending to be a conservative that was sending packages to liberals.

And, again, everything's on the table I suppose. But when all signs are pointing in one direction, it seemed like there were people out there who wanted a certain narrative to be true, when investigators, we don't look at things through that lens.

So for the director to now come down, put down on a marker, and say, this wasn't a hoax, these were real devices, my bomb technicians who went through these looked at them and said, these were dangerous, these were improvised explosive devices, I think it goes a long way in countering that narrative that maybe this was some conspiracy or some other type of thing that...

BALDWIN: Right. That should clear it all up that they are not -- quote -- "bombs."

Shimon, you have been reading through this criminal complaint that was unsealed. And to me, one of the one of the details just in some of these packages talking about these 13 IEDs, certain mailings included photographs of the target recipients marked with a red X.


I mean, so this guy, you have to wonder where he put this together, right? That's sort of -- that's unclear yet where he learned how to do this. It's easy. You could do this on the Internet. So it's possible that's how he learned how to do this.

But we're learning that he was living in his van.

BALDWIN: He lived in that white van.

PROKUPECZ: Yes. So that's the thing that stuck out -- that's now sticking out to me. So where did he learn how to make this? Where -- he could have made these in his van.

But the question is, was he -- how did he learn -- how did he know how to make these bombs?

BALDWIN: Let me jump in on that for a second.


BALDWIN: Because this is what we have from your pal Evan Perez.

Cesar Sayoc had been kicked out by his parents. So he had been living in the van that we have seen pictures of today, with all the political stickers plastered all over it. This is according to a law enforcement official.

PROKUPECZ: Yes, and also significant is that he was initially cooperating with investigators. He's now not cooperating. He's retained an attorney. He hired a lawyer, or perhaps one was given to him. He asked for one.


So, he's no longer cooperating. But he was cooperating initially. And here's what's interesting. He told investigators that the pipe bombs wouldn't have hurt anyone and that he didn't want to hurt anyone.

BALDWIN: What is that supposed to mean?

PROKUPECZ: And then he stopped speaking. Yes, it's a great question.


BALDWIN: Josh Campbell, let me repeat. He told investigators -- and Carrie, Carrie Cordero, actually, let me go to you.

Carrie Cordero, he said he told investigators that the pipe bombs wouldn't have heard anyone and that he didn't want to hurt anyone.


It really depends on what his state of mind was when he was talking to the investigators and how long he was talking and whether or not he thought that would be helpful to him in some way by saying that. We don't know the state of his mind. We don't know whether that's true or not.

I think what's important is the point that the other panelists made, which was what Director Wray said, which is that these were not hoax devices. They had, as Director Wray said, energetic material. And so I think one of the most important questions that investigator still probably have for him is whether or not there are still other devices that might be out in the mail system or somewhere else out in the country, because...

BALDWIN: He said there could be more. He said there could be more, and we all have to be vigilant.


The director did seem concerned that there might be more out there. And so they may have information about that, or that may be part of the questioning that they were that -- that they were certainly asking about. That seems to be the highest priority.

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Josh.

CAMPBELL: Yes, and this obviously seems to be a troubled person. And we will get to the bottom of what his mental acuity or mental capacity is as we learn more from investigators.

But it's important to note that even if the devices weren't meant to kill someone or maim someone, sending an explosive sends a signal that you're attempting to instill fear, to incite some type of anxiety and fear, which that falls under terrorism. You are terrorizing people potentially for a political aim.

So we can't lose sight even if he says, whether he's being accurate and candor -- exhibiting candor with the investigators on his motivation, whether or not he wanted to kill or whether he was just simply wanting to instill fear, that's still terrorism.

PROKUPECZ: Can we just -- I just want talking about the investigation.

We have learned a lot here in terms of how they got to this guy. And we have seen this before in these kinds of cases, where fingerprints, DNA -- it is remarkable. BALDWIN: It's amazing.

PROKUPECZ: Yesterday, they're dealing with these IEDs, the bomb squads. This one was -- and they get a fingerprint. The bomb squad in the Maxine Waters, they go in there, they take it apart, they do whatever, they're able to rip it apart.

And then almost immediately and almost like in real time, I mean, they're able to take fingerprints off of these devices and quickly get a match.


BALDWIN: Because he had been arrested.


BALDWIN: Because they had his prints.

PROKUPECZ: So, remember, yesterday, we had been reporting something changed. It wasn't really until yesterday that -- obviously that investigators knew that they had a huge lead.

Before yesterday, they really weren't sure who they were dealing here. And then now we know why. They got a fingerprint. And from there, they went to work. They had an image. They knew who they were looking for. They were able to get his cell phone number. They were able to track him through the cell phone number.

BALDWIN: Incredible.

PROKUPECZ: It's not entirely clear when they actually found him now, because it seems like maybe they were looking for him.

But this is incredible work, and also just the technology and the speed.

BALDWIN: Well, where would he have even -- even if he lived in his van, kicked out of his parents' house, reports of bankruptcy some years ago, where would he even have built these bombs?

CAMPBELL: Yes, one of the many puzzles that investigators will have to get to the bottom of, and as they go through that van, whether they see evidence of the packaging and all of that. That will answer some of those questions.

Or was he doing this somewhere else. Were there other residents or an associate? It'll be interesting too. We had the forensic examination. We have the witnesses.

I'm still really concerned about this idea that there might be other packages out there. And if all of a sudden he's clamming up and he's no longer being cooperative, investigators will have to look elsewhere.

And one way they're -- I have worked on cases where we have done this, where we heard that there's this -- padded manila envelopes, right? So if you go through and see a package of 20 of them or 15 of them and we have counted for 13 and now they're say eight missing, investigators are going to want to try to work backwards and figure out, OK, where are all these other ingredients that you got?

Are they also out there and other devices? As the FBI director said, they're not out of the woods yet. So that has to be the -- we're all breathing just a little bit of sigh of relief today, the public, but I hope the public understands that until law enforcement gives the all- clear, everyone still has remain vigilant.

BALDWIN: Hang on, Shimon. I know you want to make a point, but I do want to bring Carrie back in, Carrie Cordero, CNN national security analyst and former counselor to U.S. assistant attorney general.


BALDWIN: I know you jumped in before. And I want to just highlight your point from before, that, again, Christopher Wray, the head of the FBI, said that these 13 bombs were not -- they were not a hoax, right?

So, this was the real deal, full stop. This should quell any sort of the -- I don't know, in this political -- politically incendiary environment, it should just -- that should put that to a halt, yes?


CORDERO: Well, here's what struck me about that press conference, Brooke, was the presence of Attorney General Sessions and FBI Director Wray.

They could have had deputies do this. They could have had the Southern District of New York U.S. attorney do it. They didn't actually necessarily have to have the attorney general and the FBI director along with the other officials do this press conference.

They did it for a reason.

BALDWIN: That's a great point.

CORDERO: And I think first they did it to show that this really was the number one priority for federal law enforcement and working with their state and local partners since this event has unfolded.

And so they demonstrated that they were personally attuned to what's going on and this was a -- the highest priority for law enforcement. But I think they also really showed America what apolitical law enforcement looks like.

And so here you had a Republican attorney general, a Republican- nominated and confirmed FBI director, and they were leading the case of violent acts that were taken against members of the Democratic Party, in addition to John Brennan, who was a career intelligence professional.

And I think that's such an important message that they sent. And Attorney General Sessions' statement that they would not tolerate any type of political violence was so important at this moment.

BALDWIN: Jeff Sessions leading by saying, this is utterly unacceptable, as you just mentioned, referring to it over and over as political violence. That is an excellent point.

They could have sent others to stand in. And these guys showed up. They showed up.

Carrie, thank you very much.

Stand by, everyone. I know you wanted to jump in.

We have new details just in on how the FBI found this individual earlier this morning. And we have uncovered video of the suspect at a Donald Trump rally.

Stay with us.



BALDWIN: All right, a lot of news happening this afternoon here, of course, today's arrest of the suspect accused of sending these bombs to two former presidents and a number of other top Democratic officials.

So just to get you up to speed here, moments ago, we heard from Attorney General Jeff Sessions announcing Cesar Sayoc is being charged with five federal crimes, including interstate transportation of an explosive and threats against former presidents.

We also heard from the head of the FBI, Christopher Wray, who refers to these 13 explosive devices is IEDs, said 13 were sent, and that agents were able to identify this man using a single fingerprint from one of these packages.


WRAY: We can confirm that 13 IEDs were sent to various individuals across the country. 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.

Though we're still analyzing the devices in our laboratory, these are not hoax devices.


BALDWIN: These are not hoax devices. He also warned that there could be more packages, to -- everyone, remain vigilant.

And while investigators wouldn't reveal any information on a possible motive, obviously, a lot of attention is being paid to this van that was seized us this morning at the scene of the arrest in Florida.

And this van is just covered in stickers, including images of President Trump and Vice President Pence, a number of stickers that are critical of Democratic figures and certainly critical of us here at CNN.

Randi Kaye ease in Plantation, Florida, where that arrest happened earlier this morning.

And tell me more. We have got some new information on how this arrest came to be. What do you know?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, it's so fascinating, because you mentioned that single fingerprint.

Somehow, that fingerprint was tracked to right here, the AutoZone in Plantation, Florida, not far from Miami, to State Road 7, where the AutoZone is located. And earlier this morning, that's how they were able to locate Cesar Sayoc.

They found him through tracking that DNA, through tracking a cell phone, and they were able to arrest him here at the AutoZone in Plantation, Florida.

Just a fascinating journey and incredible work by law enforcement, if you think about what that took to get him.

But in terms of how the arrest went down, he was apparently cooperating, according to our colleague Evan Perez, his sources telling him that he had he told police that those pipe bombs wouldn't hurt anyone, I wouldn't hurt anyone.

He's also learned that they used flash bombs to make that arrest. They didn't want to do it at his home, as you have been talking about, Brooke, because it was concern that maybe there was some concern that maybe it would have been booby-trapped for investigators.

But they took that vehicle, and they took him under arrest. And, certainly, they're questioning him and examining that vehicle very closely, Brooke, for more clues -- back to you.

BALDWIN: Incredible job by law enforcement. You are exactly right.

Randy, thank you.

And let's go now to Rene Marsh, Because, Rene, it's my understanding we actually have a photo of this individual at a Trump rally from 2017.


So we have been digging into Cesar Sayoc's background and coming across his social media and within our own video archives.