Trump plans frenzied campaign push after mail bomb suspect's arrest

Mr Trump is greeted by Mr Mark Harris, a pastor and Republican congressional nominee in North Carolina (left) and Representative Ted Budd (right) upon arrival in Charlotte, North Carolina, for a campaign rally.
Mr Trump is greeted by Mr Mark Harris, a pastor and Republican congressional nominee in North Carolina (left) and Representative Ted Budd (right) upon arrival in Charlotte, North Carolina, for a campaign rally.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (AFP) - President Donald Trump on Saturday (Oct 27) plunged into a frenzied last 10 days of campaigning ahead of crucial midterm elections, seeking to regain the spotlight briefly seized by the arrest of a Florida fan of his charged with mailing bombs to more than a dozen of the US President's leading critics.

After initially denouncing the mailings as "terrorising acts" and calling them "despicable", Mr Trump has resumed his attacks on the news media, saying they themselves shared the blame.

The president was due to speak later on Saturday at a rally in Illinois, a day after he accused the media of using the bombing suspect's political inclinations to "score political points against me and the Republican Party".

At a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday, he blamed the suspicious packages for slowing the Republicans' push to hold control of both houses of Congress in the Nov 6 midterms.

"The Republicans had tremendous momentum, and then, of course, this happened," Mr Trump said.

Cesar Sayoc, 56, a registered Republican with a criminal history, was charged with mailing at least 13 bombs in a week-long spree that inflamed the country ahead of the elections.

The FBI said late on Friday that a possible 14th bomb, similar to the others, had been recovered at the California home of Democratic donor Tom Steyer.

Sayoc was arrested outside a Florida mall, and his van, covered in pro-Trump and anti-liberal stickers, was seized.

'I THINK I'VE BEEN TONED DOWN'

Mr Trump is planning an intensive schedule of big rallies - the platform from which he has launched some of his sharpest strikes on political foes - from now until the election.

Along with attacks on his critics, he is expected to play up what he says is the "threat" of a caravan of mostly Honduran migrants moving slowly northward, mostly on foot, through Mexico.

On Saturday, after several people were reportedly killed at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Mr Trump addressed the poisonous climate.

"It's a terrible, terrible thing what's going on with hate in our country, frankly, and all over the world and something has to be done," he told journalists before flying off to campaign.

 
 
 

Top Democratic lawmakers Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have accused Mr Trump of condoning "physical violence and dividing Americans".

Asked on Friday by a reporter whether, in light of the bombing attempts, he would pledge "to tone down" his rhetoric, Mr Trump replied, "Well, I think I've been toned down, if you want to know the truth.

"I could really tone it up... The media has been extremely unfair to me and to the Republican Party."

In his North Carolina rally, the president lashed out at the top Democrats, drawing supportive boos with his dismissive mention of Pelosi and his mocking of "Cryin' Chuck Schumer".

Among a flurry of election-related Twitter messages early on Saturday, Mr Trump retweeted, with evident approval, a headline from right-leaning website Breitbart News: "Trump Thunders at Media for Smearing His Supporters after Bomb Scares."

OBAMA, CLINTON, BIDEN

Sayoc has been charged with five federal crimes, including the mailing of explosives and threats against former presidents, Attorney-General Jeff Sessions announced.

If put on trial and convicted, Sayoc faces up to 48 years in prison.

The bombs were sent through the mail, many of them via a US Postal Service processing centre in Florida, and Sayoc was tracked down based on fingerprint and possible DNA evidence, agents said.

He is accused of mailing explosives to prominent Trump critics in several states, including former president Barack Obama and Mr Trump's opponent in the 2016 presidential election, Mrs Hillary Clinton.

The other targets were former vice president Joe Biden, Hollywood star Robert De Niro, billionaire donor George Soros, former CIA director John Brennan, former intelligence chief James Clapper, former attorney-general Eric Holder, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.

All the targets are loathed by Trump supporters for their public opposition to the US president.

A lawyer for the suspect's family, Mr Ron Lowy, told CNN that Sayoc had seemed more interested in "bodybuilding (and) nightclub events" than in politics.

He was arrested in 2002 for making a bomb threat against a power company, according to court records, and was sentenced to a year on probation. He has also been arrested for theft and domestic violence.

"It's my opinion that he was attracted to the Trump formula of... reaching out to these types of outsiders, people who don't fit in, people who are angry at America, telling them that they have a place at the table, telling them that it's OK to get angry," Mr Lowy said.

"I believe that that was a motivating factor. Do I blame the president solely? No. This is a sick individual."

Each of the homemade bombs included six inches of PVC pipe, a small clock, a battery, wiring and energetic material, defined by the FBI as potentially explosive.