The White House fought back Thursday against liberals’ mounting accusations that President Trump incited someone to mail 10 suspicious packages to prominent Democrats, as investigators found three more devices — two sent to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and one to actor Robert De Niro.
Federal and state investigators were waging a coast-to-coast manhunt for the culprit, who sent some of the packages through the U.S. mail system. Sources told The Associated Press that a search of mail system databases has pointed investigators to Florida.
After getting blamed on cable news and social media for more than a day about his provocative rhetoric inspiring a would-be bomber, Mr. Trump fired back Thursday. He said the media are at fault for much of the partisan hostility, which has resulted in leftists hounding and harassing Republican officials in public.
“A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,” Mr. Trump posted on Twitter. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who earlier this year became the first presidential spokesperson to require Secret Service protection for her and her family, said it was “disgraceful” for critics to blame Mr. Trump for the actions of a twisted criminal.
“There’s a big difference between comments made and actions taken,” Mrs. Sanders said. “The president is certainly not responsible for sending suspicious packages to someone, no more than [Sen.] Bernie Sanders was responsible for a supporter of his shooting up a Republican baseball field practice last year.”
She was referring to James Hodgkinson, an unemployed former Sanders campaign volunteer who shot Republicans in June 2017 at a baseball practice, grievously wounding Majority Whip Steve Scalise and lobbyist Matt Mika.
When CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta criticized Mr. Trump for failing to take “responsibility for his own rhetoric,” the president’s eldest son, Donald Jr., called out the journalist for hypocrisy.
“Jim, did you or your colleagues take any responsibility for your rhetoric in constantly calling my family Racists and Nazis for 2 years when my wife actually opened an exploding envelope of white powder intended for me?” the younger Mr. Trump tweeted. “What about when it happened to my brother?”
The FBI and other law enforcement agencies were conducting a massive manhunt Thursday from New York to Los Angeles, trying to identify the person or people who mailed apparently inactive pipe bombs and envelopes with powder to top Democrats. The targets included former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mr. Biden, former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., liberal billionaire George Soros, former CIA Director John O. Brennan and other prominent critics of Mr. Trump, none of whom was harmed.
New York law enforcement warned that any suspicious package should be handled with caution. Because the investigation is continuing, authorities could not confirm whether the packages contained functioning explosives, but they said the devices were being transported to an FBI facility in Virginia for examination.
They said the packages should not be considered a hoax.
Authorities said one of the packages that contained a “suspected explosive device” was discovered by a retired police detective, who notified investigators early Thursday morning. The package was intended for Mr. De Niro, an outspoken critic of the president who began a speech at the Tony Awards this year by shouting on live TV, “F– Trump!”
Mr. Brennan blamed the president, saying his rhetoric “fuels these feelings and sentiments that now are bleeding over into potentially acts of violence.”
“Stop blaming others. Look in the mirror,” the former spy chief tweeted at the president Thursday. “Your inflammatory rhetoric, insults, lies, & encouragement of physical violence are disgraceful. Clean up your act. … Try to act Presidential. The American people deserve much better. BTW, your critics will not be intimidated into silence.”
Suspicious packages also were mailed to the offices of Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat who is a frequent target of the president’s ridicule.
“I think the president of the United States has been dog-whistling to his constituency, making them believe that their problems are caused by those people over there,” she said. “And I think that they’re acting out what they believe the president wants them to do and the way that he wants them to act.”
Former Hillary Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon, who also worked in the Obama Justice Department, said with apparent sincerity that only Republicans are to blame for incivility in politics.
“One side, and this president in particular, seems to condone and glorify violence,” Mr. Fallon said on MSNBC. “It is a difficult conversation to have to say one side cultivates violence, one side inspires this type of behavior more than the other because you sound partisan when you say it. But if we are honest with ourselves, people of good faith should … seriously say it is the president who is creating this caustic environment in America in 2018.”
Two hundred mostly retired journalists penned an open letter Thursday directly blaming Mr. Trump for being “a part of a sustained pattern of attack on a free press.”
“At his inauguration, the president of the United States swears to protect the U.S. Constitution, including the First Amendment,” the letter read. “This president is utterly failing to do so and actively to incite violence against it as well.”
Conservatives say liberals are conveniently overlooking their extensive record of threatening actions and promoting violence against Republicans, which include screaming at administration officials and lawmakers in restaurants, mailing powder-filled envelopes, making death threats, and publishing a New York Times’ review this week of a book about the assassination of a Republican president.
Pop singer Madonna told the Women’s March last year that she had “thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.” She said later that her comment was taken out of context.
At a campaign rally in Wisconsin on Wednesday night, the president was noticeably restrained in his rhetoric. He passed up the usual barbs at Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Waters and other Democratic foils of his.
“Do you see how nice I’m behaving tonight?” the president asked the crowd. “Have you ever seen this? We’re all behaving very well. And hopefully we can keep it that way, right? We’re going to keep it that way.”
⦁ S.A. Miller contributed to this report.
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