MANHATTAN (CN) – When he mailed out 16 pipe bombs to the perceived political, financial and media elite late last year, Cesar Sayoc delivered what many interpreted as a howl of anger from the underbelly of “MAGA” America.
But on Thursday afternoon, even amplified by a microphone, Sayoc’s raspy voice could barely be heard as he confessed in federal court to 65 crimes that could put him away for life.
“I mailed them from South Florida to George Soros, Hillary Clinton, John Brennan, Robert de Niro, James Clapper, Barack Obama, Maxine Waters, Eric Holder, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Thomas Steyer and CNN,” Sayoc said, reading listlessly from a prepared statement about his 2018 packages.
Designed to “look like pipe bombs,” the 57-year-old Sayoc added: “The devices consisted of a plastic pipe with a digital alarm clock with wires attached to it.”
Sayoc acknowledged that the packages could have done real harm. He confirmed that he meant to “threaten and intimidate people,” but he stopped short of admitting more than an “intent to injury property.”
“Inside the plastic pipe was powder from fireworks, fertilizer, pool shock and some glass fragments,” he said. “I also put pictures of the recipients with red Xs over their faces inside the package.”
As they arrested Sayoc in October, authorities also found images of prominent Democrats in crosshairs splayed across the suspect’s white van covered with President Donald Trump’s slogans, a vehicle that appeared to double as the 57-year-old’s home.
“I know that these actions were wrong, and I am extremely sorry,” Sayoc said, weeping.
As described by U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, Sayoc “rained terror across the country” in October 2018.
“Thankfully no one was hurt by these dangerous devices, but his actions left an air of fear and divisiveness in their wake,” Berman said in a statement.
A resident of Aventura, Florida, Sayoc appeared visibly shaken when asked if he understood how much prison time he could face as a result of today’s plea.
U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff can only go as low as 10 years, and federal sentencing guidelines recommend a term of life imprisonment plus another decade.
“Apparently because the government believes it has power over the hereafter,” Rakoff quipped darkly.
Cutting through the carefully crafted language of Sayoc’s prepared remarks, Rakoff pressed the bomber on what he anticipated would happen to his targets.
“Did you intend that they would in fact explode?” Rakoff asked.
“No, sir,” Sayoc replied.
The denial sparked a follow-up question from the judge about what would have prevented the explosives he sent from detonating.
“I was aware of the risk that it would explode,” Sayoc confirmed.
Had the case gone to trial, prosecutors anticipated calling forensic experts on explosives and destructive devices and DNA and fingerprint analysis.
The Department of Justice had been silent on Sayoc’s motive, and Trump tried to distance himself from the man he called “this crazy bomber.”
Judge Rakoff found Sayoc of sound mind to deliver his plea after some brief questioning. Sayoc acknowledged receiving psychiatric treatment and, asked if he had ever been treated or hospitalized for alcoholism, replied: “Yes, I have in the past.”
Media outlets noted that Sayoc’s threats to journalists closely tracked Trump’s attacks on the press.
Three days after Trump called the news media the “enemy of the people” in February 2017, Sayoc tweeted to Fox News’ Chris Wallace: “The Press is the enemy.”
News of Sayoc’s change of plea emerged last week, shortly after a white-supremacist attack on a mosque killed 50 people in Christchurch, New Zealand. The U.N. Security Counsel has since called for a global clampdown on white-supremacist violence.
Sayoc will be sentenced on Sept. 12.