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Trump Praises Investigators Following Arrest Of Suspect In Suspicious Packages Case

Oct 26, 2018
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There's been a break in the case of suspicious packages sent to prominent Democrats and to CNN. A Florida man was arrested today even as new packages containing possible pipe bombs continue to surface. The suspect, 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc, faces of a variety of federal charges including threatening a former president. FBI director Christopher Wray says Sayoc's fingerprint was found on one of the packages and his DNA in two others. Wray says the packages contained improvised explosive devices.

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CHRISTOPHER WRAY: Though we're still analyzing the devices in our laboratory, these are not hoax devices.

CORNISH: While authorities say Sayoc appears to be a political partisan, they stress that it is premature to speculate on a possible motive. At the White House earlier today, President Trump welcomed the arrest while giving thanks to law enforcement.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: These people have worked so hard. And to have done it so quickly, it's looking like a - you're looking - it's a needle in a haystack. How do you do this so quickly? They've done an incredible, incredible job. And I want to congratulate them.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

CORNISH: Throughout this week as the investigation proceeded, we've heard mixed messages from the president. NPR's Scott Horsley is here now to talk more about that. Hey there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: So the president spoke about the arrest today at a White House event - right? - celebrating young black leaders. What happened?

HORSLEY: His tone at that event was tough. He said there was no place for political violence in this country. He condemned what appeared to be an effort to sow fear among Americans. And as he'd done earlier in the week when there was a flurry of these packages, the president made an appeal for national unity. He said people shouldn't demonize their political opponents and settle their - and should settle their differences peacefully at the ballot box. In other words, it was a - sort of a conventional message that you would expect to hear from a president at a time like this but still a little bit eyebrow-raising coming from an unconventional president like Donald Trump.

CORNISH: Right. A lot of his critics have pointed out this week that the president often vilifies Democrats, that he's been known to speak positively about violence. I mean, was there any feedback from those targeted by the suspect?

HORSLEY: Former President Barack Obama happened to be campaigning for Democrats in Wisconsin today, and he suggested that the president's call for unity rings a little bit hollow.

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BARACK OBAMA: I'm hoping you think it's wrong to hear people spend years, months vilifying people, questioning their patriotism, calling them enemies of the people. And then suddenly you're concerned about civility - please.

HORSLEY: And the president himself has been sending mixed messages throughout this episode. Earlier today, he was tweeting a complaint that non-stop media attention to these suspicious packages was taking attention away from politics and cutting into what he said was Republican momentum ahead of the midterm elections.

CORNISH: Talk a little bit more about the midterms. It's just 11 days away now. Which of these mixed messages do you think the president will be leaning harder on?

HORSLEY: I think that's what we're all kind of waiting to see. Earlier this week in Wisconsin, the president sort of self-consciously dialed back his more partisan rhetoric. He said he was trying to be nice. But tonight at another political rally in North Carolina, it was kind of back to the no-holds-barred Donald Trump. He went after Democrats as being extreme and radical. He named Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters, and he particularly targeted the news media.

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TRUMP: We have seen an effort by the media in recent hours to use these sinister actions of one individual to score political points against me and the Republican Party.

(BOOING)

HORSLEY: This was Donald Trump in full grievance mode, Audie, and his partisan supporters ate it up.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thank you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.