Apparent pipe bomb found in CNN building in Columbus Circle, NYPD says

An apparent pipe bomb was found in the CNN building in Columbus Circle on Oct. 24, 2018, police said.
An apparent pipe bomb was found in the CNN building in Columbus Circle on Oct. 24, 2018, police said. Photo Credit: Elsewhere

An apparent pipe bomb was sent to the CNN mailroom in Manhattan on Wednesday, part of a wave of suspicious packages mailed to high-profile Democrats and others often attacked by President Donald Trump. 

NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller described the device sent to CNN as a “pipe bomb,” and said it was similar to the devices mailed to former President Barack Obama, ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others in recent days.

“It appears that an individual or individuals sent out multiple similar packages,” he said at an afternoon news conference. 

The FBI has launched an investigation into seven incidents and released a photo of one of the packages, warning the public that more could be out there.

“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.”

All the devices were packaged in manila envelopes with bubble wrap on the inside and computer-printed address labels on the exterior. Each one included a return address for “Debbie Wasserman Shultz (sic),” a current U.S. representative and the former chair of the Democratic National Committee.

A white powder was also discovered in the package sent to CNN, which is housed in the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle. The network’s newsroom and the rest of the building was evacuated shortly after the discovery around 10 a.m. The package, which officials said was addressed to former CIA director John Brennan, was removed by the NYPD at about noon and transferred to a facility in the Bronx for further investigation.

“These devices are an attempt to strike fear,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at the news conference, calling them attempted terrorist attacks. “We wouldn’t be surprised if additional devices are sent.”

A suspicious package also was discovered at Cuomo’s office on Third Avenue and East 41st Street on Wednesday but it did not contain a “device of any kind” and was “unrelated” to the other threatening mailings, said J. Peter Donald, a spokesman for the NYPD, in a tweet.

Cuomo later deployed 100 National Guard soldiers and doubled security at “vital transportation assets,” including LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, out of an abundance of caution.

The current political climate is at least partially to blame for these incidents, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. 

“Unfortunately, this atmosphere of hatred is contributing to the choices people are making to turn to violence,” de Blasio said. “There’s no question about it.”

Authorities intercepted the package intended for Obama in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday while the package addressed to Clinton was intercepted late Tuesday in Westchester County. 

“The packages were immediately identified during routine mail screening procedures as potential explosive devices and were appropriately handled as such,” the Secret Service said in a statement.

An explosive device was found at billionaire liberal donor George Soros’ Westchester County home Monday, according to officials. Another suspicious package was sent to former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, but it turned up at the return address listed for Wasserman Schultz in Florida, prompting an evacuation of the building Wednesday, the FBI said.

Two other packages were addressed to U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, of California. One was sent to her Capitol Hill office and the other was intercepted in Los Angeles.

Trump has promised a full investigation into the packages.

“The full weight of our government is being deployed to conduct this investigation and bring those responsible for these despicable acts to justice,” he said at an event related to opioid abuse. “We will spare no resources or expense in this effort.

“In these times, we have to unify, we have to come together, and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.”

Despite Trump’s condemnation of the incidents, CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker said the White House has shown a “total and complete lack of understanding” of how serious its attacks on the media are.

“The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that,” he added.

When the device was found in the CNN building Wednesday, a fire alarm could be heard on the live program. The network went on a commercial break and reporters and anchors were later seen on air outside the building.

“It was orderly, but surprising,” said Emily Koenig, a 23-year-old CNN production assistant, who was on the eighth floor when the alarm went off. “People don’t expect something like this to happen.”

Owen Jenkins, 24, who works at a software company, was evacuated from Jazz at Lincoln Center in the Time Warner Center, where he was helping with an event.

“It’s kind of sad because it’s not really surprising these days,” he said outside the building. “You are aware of it and you don’t expect it but you’re ready for it.”

With Lisa L. Colangelo, Lauren Cook, Ivan Pereira and Reuters