Law enforcement officials respond to the package bomb found early Thursday morning at Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Grill restaurant in New York City. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images
The finger-pointing comes as authorities are investigating more suspicious packages sent to Joe Biden and Robert De Niro.
The blame game around the spate of potential explosives sent to CNN and prominent Democrats is intensifying, with President Donald Trump accusing the media of stoking political anger and Trump’s critics pointing the finger at his divisive rhetoric.
The debate is playing out amid the charged backdrop of the midterm elections and as authorities are discovering more suspicious packages, including two sent to former Vice President Joe Biden and one sent to actor-activist Robert De Niro.Story Continued Below
While Trump on Wednesday spoke about the need for national unity, on Thursday he amped up his attacks on the media while his top aides said he didn’t bear any responsibility for fostering a heated political environment.
“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 tweeted on Thursday. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”
Speaking to reporters on Thursday morning, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders forcefully pushed back against the idea that Trump deserves any blame.”The president is certainly not responsible for sending suspicious packages, any more than Bernie Sanders was for a supporter shooting up a baseball practice,” the press secretary said referencing last year’s congressional baseball practice attack. The gunman was reportedly a Bernie Sanders supporter.
The FBI has not yet released any information about who is behind the rash of pipe-bomb-like devices sent to CNN and prominent Democratic figures, but have warned that more may still be discovered.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday morning that a Delaware mail facility intercepted a package intended for Biden similar to other packages containing potential explosive devices that were discovered this week. News later emerged of a second package addressed to Biden.
Earlier in the morning, the New York Police Department removed a possible suspicious package in Tribeca that was addressed to De Niro, whose denunciation of Trump at an awards show earlier this year received a standing ovation.
The FBI said on Wednesday night that it was investigating seven other packages addressed to former President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA Director John Brennan by way of CNN, liberal megadonor George Soros and California Rep. Maxine Waters.
The package intended for Holder was rerouted to the listed return address that appeared on all of the packages, which was an office of Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the FBI said.
In response to reports that at least some of the packages may have originated in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott’s office confirmed Thursday that he had been briefed by state law enforcement, but referred all additional questions to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Gretl Plessinger, an FDLE spokeswoman said they are working with federal officials.
“As part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, FDLE is assisting the FBI as needed in this investigation,” said Plessinger, who referred additional questions to the FBI.
As investigators continue to hunt for a suspect and a motive for the packages, Republicans and Democrats have tangled over where blame should be placed, while also renewing calls to dial back harsh political rhetoric ahead of next month’s midterm elections.
Some have pointed to Trump’s own track record of labeling the media, as well as political opponents, as his enemy. The targets of the suspicious packages this week have all drawn the ire of the president at one point or another. CNN President Jeff Zucker on Wednesday ripped into the White House for its treatment of the media. “There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media,” he said in a statement. “The President, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back on that accusation Thursday, telling Fox News: “I think it is absolutely disgraceful that one of the first public statements we heard from CNN yesterday was to put the blame and responsibility of this despicable act on the president and on me personally, when the person that is responsible for this is the person who made and created and put these suspicious packages in the hands and in the arms of innocent American citizens.”
“That’s the person responsible,” she added.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) took a similar tack, tweeting on Thursday that “I didn’t blame Bernie Sanders when a Bernie supporter shot Congressman Steve Scalise. And I’m not going to blame President @realDonaldTrump for this nut job. I blame the individual(s) responsible –- not someone else.”
Scalise (R-La.), for his part, called for tamping down incendiary rhetoric in light of the “disturbing” incidents.
“For now, it’s time for us to make sure we’re calming down the rhetoric and not pointing fingers at people,” he said on Fox News. “My goodness, we should all be focused on encouraging law enforcement, giving them all the tools they need to go and find out who’s doing this.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have forcefully come out against Trump since news of the attacks emerged. They issued a statement Wednesday criticizing Trump’s unity comments that they said would ring “hollow” until he backtracked statements that “condoned physical violence and divided Americans with his words and his actions.”
And Brennan on Thursday told the president in a tweet to “look in the mirror” before blaming the media for the current political climate.
“Stop blaming others. Look in the mirror. Your inflammatory rhetoric, insults, lies, & encouragement of physical violence are disgraceful,” he said. “Clean up your act….try to act Presidential. The American people deserve much better. BTW, your critics will not be intimidated into silence.”
Trump, in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s incidents called for unity and denounced the “despicable acts.” And at a rally in Wisconsin on Wednesday night, Trump appeared to seek credit for toning down his rhetoric, even as he said his opponents and the news media share responsibility for what he called a “destructive routine.” “We want all sides to come together in peace and harmony,” Trump said, adding, “Those engaged in the political arena must stop treating political opponents as being morally defective — have to do that. The language of moral condemnation and destructive routine, these are arguments and disagreements that have to stop. No one should carelessly compare political opponents to historical villains — which is done often, it is done all the time, it’s gotta stop. We should not mob people in public spaces or destroy public property.”
He also told the crowd, “And by the way, do you see how nice I am behaving tonight?”
Sanders on Thursday applauded Trump’s response. He “could not have been more presidential yesterday when he spoke directly to the American people,” she said. “He condemned this violence.”
The recipients of the suspicious packages have all been regular targets of incendiary rhetoric from the president, who has at times appeared to egg on violent impulses and anger from crowds at his rallies. Investigators have yet to release information about any motive related to the suspicious packages.
But several conservative activists and commentators in the aftermath have dismissed the idea that the possible explosives were ever intended to be functional, and suggested, without evidence, that liberals could be sending suspicious packages to themselves to garner public sympathy and distract voters ahead of the midterms.
“Please ignore the fact these bombs were obviously non-functioning fakes, never went through the mail and fit the Democrat narrative exactly just 2 weeks before the midterms they are LOSING,” commentator Bill Mitchell wrote on Twitter. “No, I’m sorry, I can’t ignore that.”
Matthew Dixon contributed to this report.
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