CNN found itself not just reporting the news but part of it Wednesday as it evacuated its Manhattan offices following the discovery of what police said was a crude explosive device — one of a wave of would-be bombs aimed at media organizations and leading Democratic figures.
Viewers could hear alarms going off during the network’s morning broadcast, as anchors Jim Sciutto and Poppy Harlow were discussing the first reports of bombs sent to the homes of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama and billionaire Democratic donor George Soros.
Sciutto and Harlow hurriedly left the set, and CNN went to a commercial break. The network then temporarily switched its coverage from New York to its Washington studios — but then switched back to the anchors, who reported from the Manhattan sidewalk outside CNN’s building amid the noise of pedestrians, sirens and honking traffic.
The device, apparently a pipe bomb, was removed from CNN’s offices on Columbus Circle by New York Police Department technicians before noon, while network anchors continued to report from the street. The CNN building remained cleared until about 3:45 p.m. because of a suspicious white powder that came in the package with the explosive device, delivered via courier.
The sending of suspicious parcels to Soros, Clinton, Obama and CNN strongly suggested that the sender or senders were motivated by animus toward people whom President Trump has frequently criticized.
Trump has singled out CNN repeatedly in his denunciations of the “fake news” media, and he has characterized the press as “the enemy of the people.”
Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, drew a connection between the president’s rhetoric and the attempted attack in a sharply worded statement released on Twitter hours after the scare.
“There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media,” Zucker wrote. “The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand their words matter.”
About 200 employees cleared out after the package was discovered in a mailroom. Some described a confusing scene as employees left laptops, coats and even wallets behind.
CNN anchor Kate Bolduan was struck by the “layer upon layer upon layer” of law enforcement officers flooding into the building as workers streamed out. The employees were pushed about a half-block away by local authorities as a massive NYPD bomb-disposal truck drove up to the building, she said.
TV trucks from other news organizations soon pulled up nearby, creating a traffic-stopping spectacle in which the news media covered one of its own.
“People took it pretty well,” said a CNN journalist, who described some of his colleagues heading to local coffee shops and restaurants with WiFi service so that they could continue their work. “This is the modern world, I guess.”
At a briefing on the street in the early afternoon, New York Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said the package contained “a live explosive device.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the mailing of the packages “an act of terror. It was an attempt to terrorize” and to intimidate the free press.
CNN’s offices are in the headquarters of its parent company, Time Warner, just off Central Park in midtown Manhattan. The Time Warner Center houses the company’s other networks, including TNT and corporate offices of WarnerMedia.
Similar devices later turned up addressed to former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. with a return address claiming to be that of the Florida office of Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Another suspicious package was found at the congressional mail-screening facility in Capitol Heights, Md., addressed to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a prominent Trump critic. Authorities think the devices all came from the same source.
Law enforcement authorities intercepted all of the packages and no injuries were reported.
Amid heightened vigilance, mystery packages also set off scares at the offices of New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), the San Diego Union-Tribune and a Fresno TV station, but those turned out to be harmless.
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer said the package sent to CNN was addressed to John Brennan, the former CIA director. Brennan is now a TV commentator, but he works for MSNBC and NBC, not CNN.
Brennan, who headed the spy agency during the Obama administration, has been a harsh critic of Trump, who retaliated in August by revoking his security clearance.
In an email to employees, Zucker said the network was “checking all bureaus around the world, out of a complete abundance of caution.” He later said no other devices were found.
In a statement sent via Twitter, Vice President Pence said: “We condemn the attempted attacks against former president Barack Obama, the Clintons, CNN and others. These cowardly actions are despicable and have no place in this Country. ”
Trump’s only public statement about the suspicious mailings throughout the morning was a tweet in reply to Pence’s statement. “I agree wholeheartedly,” he wrote.
He later changed his usual combative tone and told a White House gathering, “In these times, we have to unify. We have to come together and send one very clear, strong and unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.”
In a bit of ill-timed fundraising, Trump’s reelection campaign distributed an email attacking CNN around noon Wednesday, about two hours after CNN reported on the bomb threat against it. The fundraising letter came from Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, who criticized CNN for its reporting on a Trump’s rally in Florida. Her email quotes an unnamed CNN figure who said of the rally, “It felt like we weren’t in America anymore.” Lara Trump’s response reads, “It’s time for us to give the media another wake-up call from the American people.”
In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders condemned the attacks, calling them “despicable,” and promised that “anyone responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
She later tweeted that “our condemnation . . . includes threats made to CNN as well.”