Donald Trump accuses media of political point scoring after fan Cesar Sayoc charged over mail bombs sent to Democrats
- ‘There’s no blame, there’s no anything,’ said Trump after it emerged the suspect attended his rallies and plastered his van with memes attacking Trump critics
US President Donald Trump said on Friday that he does not think he bears blame for the serial bombing attempts by one of his devoted fans, and accused the news media of using the thwarted attacks to score political points against him.
“No, not at all,” Trump said, when asked by reporters whether he is to blame for the actions of the alleged bomber, who targeted national Democrats and figures who have been critical of Trump on television and elsewhere.
Later, at a political rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, Trump accused the media of exploiting the incident.
“We have seen an effort by the media in recent hours to use the sinister actions of one individual to score political points against me and the Republican Party,” the president said.
Suspect Cesar Sayoc, 56, was arrested in a business’ car park in Plantation, Florida, on Friday morning. His white van, impounded at the scene, was plastered with pro-Trump stickers and photos, and other messages targeting his critics, including Hillary Clinton and CNN. Pipe bombs addressed to both were among 13 that law enforcers have recovered.
Justice Department officials announced five federal charges against Sayoc, and revealed that DNA and a fingerprint found on an envelope package helped them identify the suspect after a five-day, coast-to-coast investigation. Even as he was arrested and charged, investigators scrutinised new suspicious packages believed to be tied to his plot.
Federal Bureau of Investigation officials did not disclose a motive, although Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggested politics may have played a role, noting Sayoc appeared to be a “partisan.” Those who saw him in the neighbourhood, unmistakable in a white van plastered with Trump’s image and political stickers, described him as unsettling and troubled.
Sayoc, an amateur body builder and ex-stripper, had attended Trump rallies, filling his social media accounts with photos, videos and memes dedicated to supporting Trump and lambasting his opponents, like George Soros, another bomb target. In many photos he wore a “Make America Great Again” cap.
A registered Republican, Sayoc has an extensive criminal history, and in 2002 was charged with threatening to bomb an electric company for trying to shut off his lights.
Fingerprint and DNA evidence was used to identify the suspect, but Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray cautioned that the arrest did not necessarily end the threat.
“There may be other packages in transit now and other packages on the way,” Wray said.
Trump addressed the arrest as he left the White House for a rally in North Carolina.
“There’s no blame, there’s no anything,” Trump said. He added that the gunman who shot and badly wounded Republican Representative Steve Scalise last year “was a supporter of a different party.”
“I think I’ve been toned down, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said when asked whether he would moderate his attacks on political adversaries after the attempted bombings.
Asked about pro-Trump messages covering Sayoc’s van, Trump said: “I did not see my face on the van. I don’t know, I heard he was a person who preferred me over others.”
In a press conference, Attorney General Jeff Sessions declined to speculate on Sayoc’s possible motive, but noted that he appeared to be “a partisan”.
Addressing supporters in North Carolina later on Friday, Trump called for national unity while continuing to attack the media over its coverage of the attempted bombings.
“Everyone will benefit if we can end the politics of personal destruction. We must unify as a nation in peace love and harmony,” the president said.
“We do not blame the Democrat party for the radical leftists who destroy public property and unleash violence and mayhem,” he continued. “The media try to attack incredible Americans who are trying to support our movement trying to give power back to the people.”
Earlier, Trump had complained on Twitter that coverage of the bombs was interfering with Republican “momentum” ahead of the November 6 midterm elections.
“Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this ‘Bomb’ stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows – news not talking politics,” Trump wrote. “Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote!”
His tweet came about an hour before federal authorities announced the arrest in Florida of Sayoc on suspicion of sending the bombs, the latest of whose targets included Democrat Senator Cory Booker, and former director of national intelligence James Clapper.
As of Friday afternoon, 13 devices had been found by law enforcement. None have detonated, but all have pushed officials onto high alert as they worry about additional devices being delivered.
At the outset of a White House event early Friday afternoon, Trump took a different tone than in his tweet, praising law enforcement officers for their swift work and calling for national unity.
“The bottom line is that Americans must unify, and we must show the world that we are united together in peace and love and harmony as fellow American citizens,” Trump said. “There is no country like our country, and every day we are showing the world just how truly great we are.”
The president also promised the prosecution of anyone responsible for sending the explosive devices “to the fullest extent of the law.”
“These terrorising acts are despicable and have no place in our country,” he said at the outset of a previously scheduled event for young conservative African-American leaders.
But a more partisan Trump soon re-emerged at the event in the East Room, where many attendees wore “Make America Great Again” hats, called out Trump’s name and chanted “USA” and “Build the wall,” the latter a reference to the president’s long-promised wall at the US-Mexico border.
During his remarks, Trump, who recently declared himself a “nationalist”, derided “globalists”, saying: “I like the globe, too, but we have to take care of our people.”
As he referenced globalists, some in the crowd called out “Soros”, and then chanted “lock him up!”
“Lock him up,” Trump repeated from the lectern, laughing.
Additional reporting by Associated Press