National News

Bomb Suspect Planned His Campaign for More Than Three Months, Court Papers Say

Posted October 31, 2018 1:53 p.m. EDT
Updated October 31, 2018 1:54 p.m. EDT

The man arrested in Florida last week in connection with the rash of crude pipe bombs sent to outspoken critics of President Donald Trump had been planning his campaign for at least three months, and his laptop and cellphone are now providing investigators with a trove of fresh evidence, new court papers say.

Describing the bomb spree as “a domestic terrorist attack,” prosecutors gave a glimpse into its origins. They wrote in the court papers that the laptop of the suspect, Cesar A. Sayoc Jr., had been used, as early as July, to draft a list of targets and scour the internet for information on some of them and their families.

The new court papers were addressed to a judge in Miami where Sayoc, 56, is set to appear this week at a bail hearing. Prosecutors in Manhattan are expected to ask a judge to detain him pending trial, and, in the filing, asked that Sayoc be sent to New York City for prosecution and denied bail on the grounds that he posed a “substantial danger to the community and a significant risk of flight.”

After an intense, nationwide manhunt, Sayoc, an ardent fan of Trump, was taken into custody on Friday in a parking lot in Plantation, Florida, near a white van in which he had apparently been living.

The van, which has been seized by authorities, was plastered with pro-Trump stickers, some of which depicted Sayoc’s intended victims, including former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, marked with red rifle cross hairs.

A law enforcement official said this week that Sayoc had prepared a list of about 100 potential targets and the court documents noted that the FBI was in the process of alerting each person found on it.

“Put simply,” the papers said, “only the defendant’s arrest and incapacitation resulting from his detention were sufficient to stop his attack.”

The bomb campaign started mysteriously on Oct. 22, when the first device was found at the home of George Soros, the billionaire Democratic donor, in a suburb north of New York City, and continued in a rolling wave throughout last week, sowing fear and discord across the country just ahead of the coming midterm elections.

Prosecutors said that at least 15 devices had been found so far — all of them in similar manila envelopes and with printed labels bearing the misspelled name and return address of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.

The devices were mailed to some of Trump’s most vocal critics and those who have been targets of his ire, including former Vice President Joe Biden; former Attorney General Eric Holder; John O. Brennan, a former CIA director; and actor Robert De Niro. Federal officials have said that a fingerprint on one package addressed to Rep. Maxine Waters, D- Calif., led them to Sayoc. He has denied playing any role in the bombing campaign, a law enforcement official said.

Two central questions regarding the devices remain unanswered even five days after Sayoc’s arrest. Were they constructed in a way that would allow them to detonate on their own? And, if not, was that because Sayoc lacked skills as a bombmaker or because the devices were intended only to sow terror and division?

The new court papers reiterated what authorities have already said: that the bombs, while crudely fashioned, were in fact dangerous. Prosecutors noted that many of them contained what they called “energetic material with explosive qualities” and that others were also packed with shards of glass “intended to maximize harm.”

The papers also indicated that Sayoc started hatching his campaign during the summer. On July 26, the papers said, he created a file on his laptop titled “Debbie W.docx” that contained several copies of Wasserman Schultz’s address in Sunrise, Florida, that eventually appeared on the packages he sent. Other files on the laptop, created on Sept. 22, were used to print the mailing labels on the devices delivered to Sayoc’s victims, the papers said.

Prosecutors added that internet records found on Sayoc’s laptop showed that he had been conducting chilling research on several of his targets and their families for months. On July 15, for instance, Sayoc searched for the words “hilary Clinton hime address,” the papers said. Two months later, he searched for the words “address for barack Obama.”

There were further searches, the papers said, for “eric holder wife and kids” and “john brennan wife and kids.”

Investigators also found photos on Sayoc’s cellphone downloaded from the internet of Soros, what seemed to be Obama’s home and a driver’s license belonging to former first lady Michelle Obama.

Sayoc has already been charged in New York with illegally mailing explosives and four other counts. If convicted on those charges, he faces up to 48 years in prison.

But in their papers, prosecutors said he was likely to face “additional charges and increased penalties.”