Pipe bombs were sent to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama and some of his top aides, authorities said Wednesday, revealing an apparent plot against some of the biggest names in Democratic politics.
The FBI and New York law enforcement vowed to track down the perpetrator of what top officials called an “act of terror.”
As many as six bombs may have been linked to the plot, and officials said they wouldn’t be surprised if there are others. Bombs sent to Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama were intercepted by the Secret Service, while a package sent to Rep. Maxine Waters was intercepted at the Capitol’s off-site mail processing facility.
Others got through, including a bomb sent to former CIA Director John Brennan, now a CNN contributor, to the network’s headquarters in New York, and to billionaire liberal donor George Soros. That bomb, delivered to his New York home earlier this week, has now been linked to the broader plot, the New York Police Department said.
Yet another bomb intended for former Obama administration Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was returned to the address printed on the package — a Democratic congresswoman in Florida who herself said her offices had to be evacuated because of suspicious packages.
President Trump, campaigning in Wisconsin ahead of the November elections, vowed to find the perpetrators and “bring them to justice, hopefully very quickly.”
“Any acts or threats of political violence are an attack on our democracy itself,” he said. “No nation can succeed that tolerates violence or the threat of violence as a method of political intimidation.”
He said those in politics “must stop treating political opponents as being morally defective,” and said people need to stop comparing opponents to “historical villains” — perhaps a reference to those who compare some politicians to Hitler.
Mr. Trump also said the press has a responsibility to get facts right, and activists “should not mob people in public spaces or destroy private property” — references to leftists who’ve taken to stalking Republicans, and acts of vandalism at GOP officeholders’ buildings.
Democrats also called for calm — though they said Mr. Trump bears blame for fomenting an environment that led to the bombs being sent, and said any efforts at changing the tenor of politics begins with the president.
The target list for the bombs read like a who’s who of major critics of Mr. Trump. Ms. Waters has led the push to impeach the president while Mr. Holder, who’s eyeing a 2020 presidential bid, recently said Democrats should “kick” Republicans who hit below the belt.
Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, said during the confirmation battle over Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh that Democrats had no reason to be civil toward Republicans with whom they vehemently disagree on big issues.
On Wednesday, after the bombs were discovered, she took a more measured approach.
“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,” the former senator, first lady and top diplomat said at an event in Miami.
Mr. Brennan, a fierce critic of Mr. Trump’s, called the bombs “a very unfortunate turn of events.”
“This is something I think all Americans who really cherish our freedoms and liberties really should be outraged over,” he said — then joked after he was told of Mr. Trump’s calls for cool. “I’m tempted to say ‘That was said by Donald who?’”
Mr. Brennan, who had his security clearance canceled by Mr. Trump earlier this year, said the president is to blame for raising the temperature.
“Too often Donald Trump has helped to incite some of these feelings of anger if not violence,” he said.
Each of the packages involved in the plot had a printed return address to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat who served as her party’s chair during the heated 2016 Democratic primaries.
The package intended for Mr. Holder was apparently misdirected and ended up in Florida, where Ms. Wasserman Schultz’s district offices are located.
CNN released a photo of the package it said was delivered by courier to its offices. It showed a black pipe-like object protruding from a yellow bubble-wrap envelope with six postage stamps affixed.
An envelope with a white powder was also in the package, though the Associated Press reported Wednesday night the powder had been tested and found harmless.
The bomb intended for Mrs. Clinton was detected at a Secret Service mail-screening facility Tuesday. The one meant to reach Mr. Obama was detected Wednesday morning.
It was not clear whether the suspicious package intended for Ms. Waters was linked. U.S. Capitol Police said they discovered a package at the facility that screens all mail headed for the Capitol, and they were investigating along with the FBI and Florida police.
The mention of Florida could signal a link to the broader plot since Ms. Wasserman Schultz is there. Ms. Waters represents a district in California.
Government offices across the country stepped up security. In the U.S. Capitol, staffers were reminded not to accept any packages delivered directly to offices unless delivered by official government courier.
As news of the bombs spread, top Democrats and Republicans in Washington and around the country labeled it “terrorism.” Mr. Trump, in his remarks at the White House Wednesday afternoon, did not. But his press secretary did label them “terrorizing.”
Experts said the FBI, which is leading the investigation along with a host of other national and local law enforcement agencies, should be looking at all possible motives, including a false flag attack.
“There is a possibility right before the midterms that somebody — a conspiracy on the left — wants to make it look like it was an angry Republican. That is always a possibility. Obviously the investigation is ongoing,” said retired Homeland Security terrorism investigator Robert Uribe Alvarez.
He said the initial investigation will pick apart the packages and the pipe bombs, searching for the origin of the materials, possible finger prints or NDA evidence.
William Jonkey, who spent 25 years as an FBI bombing crime scene instructor, said the ignition methods used in the bombs — which investigators refer to as “victim operating fusing system” — will yield more information than the devices themselves, which he said are comparatively easy to construct.
“If the bombs had a victim operating system, it requires knowledge of electrical systems and batteries to ensure the bombs don’t blow up before they reach their target,” he said. “That will eliminate a lot of suspects.”
He predicted authorities will nab the perpetrator relatively quickly because unexploded devices usually yield a treasure trove of information. Typically that’s because bombers are less careful about eliminating evidence like DNA or fingerprints because they assume it is all going to be destroyed when the bomb explodes. In one case he investigated, a bomber left a hardware store price tag on the device, he said.
• S.A. Miller and Jeff Mordock contributed to this article.