Suspicious package found near Rep. Wasserman Schultz’s office
A suspected mail bomb that arrived at a district office of Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz on Wednesday scrambled law enforcement, including the FBI, to the Sunrise location as authorities investigated four suspected explosive devices sent to the Obamas, the Clintons, liberal billionaire George Soros and CNN’s office in New York.
But Wasserman Schultz’s package differed in this regard: It only got there because the address it was originally sent to was incorrect. It had been sent to the office of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. So it was delivered to the congresswoman’s Sunrise office, which was listed as the return address.
The bomb scare was one of five involving “potentially destructive devices” sent across the country to Democratic standard bearers and a news outlet, according to the FBI, raising tensions throughout the nation.
Later Wednesday, police were investigating a piece of mail addressed to Wasserman Schultz at her district office in Aventura City Hall. The building was evacuated out of an abundance of caution, the congresswoman said.
All five packages — which were mailed in manila envelopes, stuffed in bubble wrap and stamped six times — listed Wasserman Schultz’s Sunrise office as their return address, the FBI said.
The packages were sent to the Manhattan offices of CNN, the Washington, D.C., home of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, the New York home of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and to the New York home of Democratic megadonor and philanthropist Soros.
The New York Times reported that the device found inside Soros’ mailbox was “constructed from a length of pipe about six inches long filled with explosive powder” and that it was detonated by bomb squad technicians.
The newspaper also reported that the device mailed to Soros was similar to those sent to the Obamas, Clintons and to CNN. Each package was affixed with computer-printed address labels and six “Forever” stamps and had a return address of “DEBBIE WASSERMAN SHULTZ,” misspelling the congresswoman’s name.
“This investigation is of the highest priority for the FBI. We have committed the full strength of the FBI’s resources and, together with our partners on our Joint Terrorism Task Forces, we will continue to work to identify and arrest whoever is responsible for sending these packages,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “We ask anyone who may have information to contact the FBI. Do not hesitate to call; no piece of information is too small to help us in this investigation.”
Wasserman Schultz said she was “deeply disturbed” by the use of her name on suspect packages.
“We will not be intimidated by this attempted act of violence,” she said. “This appalling attack on our democracy must be vigorously prosecuted.”
The congresswoman said she has been in close contact with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies that are investigating the package found at her Sunrise office. She urged anyone with useful tips to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI.
“Today, my staff and I will hug each other and our loved ones tightly, and tomorrow get back to work serving the people I was elected to represent,” she said.
The Sunrise office building where Wasserman Schultz has her office was evacuated just before 10:30 a.m., and explosives technicians with the Broward Sheriff’s Office, the Sunrise Police Department and the FBI were at the scene.
Federal investigators from the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force in South Florida, New York and Washington, D.C., on Wednesday began looking into any similarities in the potentially explosive devices. They were also trying to track where the packages came from and gather forensic evidence and DNA.
“Each device is unique to that bomb-maker,” said one federal official not authorized to speak about the investigation. “[But] when someone does something like this, it’s usually one person.”
Sunrise Police Officer Chris Piper said the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service were taking the lead in determining if the package sent to Sunrise contained explosives.
“They are taking certain protocols to make sure that the package is safe for delivery,” he said. “The FBI will be taking the package and assuming the role, taking it to the laboratory.”
The package sent to CNN, which also contained an envelope with white powder, was addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, who revoked his security clearance earlier this year. CNN published a photo of the manila envelope it received containing the explosive device. Whoever sent the envelope misspelled both Brennan’s and Wasserman Schultz’s names, and the congresswoman’s address. CNN reported the package was sent by courier.
“What we saw here today was an effort to terrorize,” New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said during a news conference. This clearly is an act of terror attempting to undermine our free press and leaders of this country through acts of violence.”
Other congressional offices in South Florida were on alert but as of Wednesday afternoon none had reported receiving suspicious packages.
“This kind of targeted hate and violence has no place in our country and will not be tolerated,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo. “This isn’t about politics, this is about national security and our number one concern is the safety of Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz and first responders called to these scenes. Unfortunately, we have seen some candidates for office use highly divisive and toxic rhetoric during this cycle. Today’s greatly disturbing events are a reminder that everyone needs to tone it down in the last two weeks and focus on the issues. That’s the type of campaign Floridians deserve.”
President Donald Trump addressed the threats Wednesday during a White House gathering on the opioid crisis. Trump called for the nation to “come together” and “unify.”
He said he was getting steady updates and that the “full weight of the government” is being deployed to find the perpetrator. He called the sending of the bombs “egregious conduct.”
“The safety of the American people is my highest and absolute priority,” said Trump. “We have to unify. We have to come together.... Acts or threats of political violence of this kind have no place in the United States of America.”
Wasserman Schultz scrapped a planned appearance with Clinton at a fundraiser for congressional candidate Donna Shalala in Coral Gables Wednesday.
Clinton addressed the scare during the fundraiser and thanked the Secret Service for intercepting the explosive sent to her home in Chappaqua, New York.
“Many of you and others across our country have asked about me and my family and I’m very grateful for that,” she said. “We are fine thanks to the men and women of the Secret Service who intercepted the package addressed to us long before it made its way to our home.”
She continued: “Every day we’re grateful for their service and commitment and obviously never more than today. But it is a troubling time isn’t it? It’s a time of deep divisions and we have to do everything we can to bring our country together.”
Herald staff writers David Smiley, Jay Weaver, Jimena Tavel contributed to this story.