Authorities said Wednesday they had intercepted packages containing homemade explosive devices addressed to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in New York and former president Barack Obama in Washington, while another bomb was discovered at CNN's offices in Manhattan.
These devices in Washington and New York -- sent to the homes of former presidents and a cable news network in what politicians called attempted terror attacks -- prompted bipartisan condemnation and set off spasms of unease across the country, as security and law enforcement officers rushed to scour incoming mail for other potential undiscovered bombs.
The bombs and other suspicious packages were located after an explosive device was found this week in a mailbox at the Bedford, New York, home of George Soros, the liberal philanthropist who is a frequent target of criticism from far-right groups.
The devices sent to Clinton and Obama were found during screening and did not make it to them, officials said.
"The packages were immediately identified during routine mail screening procedures as potential explosive devices and were appropriately handled as such," the Secret Service said in a statement Wednesday. "The protectees did not receive the packages nor were they at risk of receiving them."
In New York, what "appeared to be a live explosive device" was located in the CNN mailroom, said James P. O'Neill, the New York City police commissioner. O'Neill said the device has been removed from the CNN offices. He also said the package contained an envelope with white powder, which investigators took for testing.
Officials have said the devices sent to Obama, Clinton and CNN appeared to be the work of the same individual. John Miller, the New York police deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, said his office was notified by the Secret Service that the packages sent to Clinton and Obama were "nearly identical."
"The devices have been what appear to be pipe bombs," he said.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday afternoon decried the bombs, saying that "the packages are being inspected by top explosives experts."
Trump pledged that the federal government would investigate and bring those responsible to justice. In a shift from his combative tone and rhetoric toward his opponents, Trump offered a condemnation of political violence.
"In these times, we have to unify," he said. "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."
Authorities were quick to label the string of packages terrorism, something that is often debated after attempted or successful violent attacks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement "condemning today's attempted acts of domestic terrorism." New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, D, speaking alongside O'Neill and Miller at a news briefing near CNN, used similar language.
"This clearly is an act of terror, attempting to undermine our free press and leaders of this country through acts of violence," de Blasio said.
Officials also warned that more explosive devices could turn up. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D, said a device was sent to his Manhattan office that was "being handled," although he did not elaborate on whether it was a suspicious package or contained an explosive.
As news of the devices spread, authorities vowed to ramp up security measures. The New York Police Department was increasing patrols in areas linked to public figures and possible targets and inspecting packages sent to locations tied to them. The police were also increasing patrols at high-profile areas, including media locations, in New York City.
The Senate sergeant at arms sent a message to senators and their staffers advising them to be cautious when handling mail and reminding people not to bring unopened mail or packages from outside into their Senate offices. About 30 offices associated with the political work of Tom Steyer, a major Democratic donor, have stepped up security significantly in the past 48 hours in light of the threats to Soros and others, said Erik Olvera, spokesman for Steyer's group Need to Impeach. They have also increased security measures for Steyer, the biggest donor to super PACs supporting liberal causes and candidates this cycle.
It wasn't immediately clear, as officials scrambled to prevent possible explosions, how many of the suspicious packages being examined were live bombs or false alarms. The San Diego Union-Tribune's building was briefly evacuated Wednesday morning due to suspicious boxes that wound up containing nothing dangerous.
The Secret Service said the package addressed to the Chappaqua, New York, home of Clinton and former president Bill Clinton was recovered late Tuesday. The package sent to Obama's Washington home was intercepted early Wednesday, authorities said.
Both packages were intercepted by Secret Service personnel working at off-site facilities near the homes in New York and in Washington, according to a person familiar with their work. All mail and packages addressed to former presidents and their immediate family are pre-sorted and screened by Secret Service personnel.
An Obama representative referred questions to the Secret Service. Speaking in Florida on Wednesday, Clinton said her family was "fine, thanks to the men and women of the Secret Service who intercepted the package addressed to us long before it made its way to our home."
She also spoke to the anger pulsing through American life, continuing: "It is a troubling time, isn't it? It is a time of deep divisions, and we have to do everything we can to bring our country together."
Two law enforcement officials said Wednesday they believed the devices sent to Clinton, Obama and Soros were the work of the same person. One of the officials said the package sent to CNN also appeared to be from the same person as well, and based on both the timing and the material, law enforcement officials suspect the same person is behind the devices sent to the three public figures as well as the network.
These devices were sent to people and an organization that have all prompted anger among the far right. Soros, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor, has funneled much of his fortune into liberal projects around the world and is the focus of considerable conspiracy theories. Clinton and Obama have also long been the focus of intense far-right anger, while CNN has repeatedly come under intense criticism from a range of figures on the right, including President Trump.
Another law enforcement official said the packages sent to the public officials this week shared similar markings, and at least one of them had a return address from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.. Authorities do not believe she is involved, an official said. Law enforcement officials were also investigating a suspicious package sent to her Sunrise, Florida, office, the FBI said. Her office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
A similarly-constructed package addressed to former attorney general Eric Holder Jr. was intercepted by law enforcement officials, according to people familiar with the investigation.
An official familiar with the investigation described the devices as "sophisticated not amateur." The official also said it was too soon to know if the devices were linked to a specific group or organization, "but you can be sure that there has been a real threat, given all the measures that were taken."
Top Republicans, including Trump and McConnell, have sought for weeks now to cast the rising tide of public anger as actual acts of violence and a phenomenon to be laid at the feet of Democrats.
"I think we know who the culprits are here when it comes to the quality of discourse in the country, and it's not coming from the Republican side of the aisle," McConnell said in an Associated Press interview this month.
The contentious confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh prompted fierce and occasionally personal protests targeting Republican on Capitol Hill. GOP leaders chided Democratic leaders, including Clinton and Holder, for delivering remarks that they claimed encourage incivility and potential acts of violence.
But law enforcement has made arrests in recent incidents targeting members of both parties. A New York man was arrested in August for threatening two House Republican leaders; another New York man was arrested last week for threatening GOP senators over Kavanaugh's nomination. In April, a California man pleaded guilty to threatening to kill Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. And a Florida man was arrested this month for posting threats on Facebook against Democrats and Republicans who opposed Kavanaugh. Earlier this month, a far-right group called the Proud Boys attacked left-wing protesters outside an Oct. 12 Republican party event in Manhattan. New York police have since arrested several members of the group.
The devices sent to Clinton, Obama and Soros this week were all pipe bombs placed inside plain manila brown envelopes with the addresses typed on stickers, according to a law enforcement official. The official said those three devices appeared to be capable of exploding and causing injuries.
Authorities urge anyone who receives a suspicious package to contact law enforcement, the official said.
The devices were sent out just months after a 23-year-old in the Austin, Texas, suburbs set off a string of package explosives in that region, killing two people and wounding several others. That bomber delivered some in person and sent others through the FedEx system, which enabled authorities to track him down.
Unlike the packages intercepted before reaching Obama and Clinton, the device sent to CNN was found while its building was teeming with employees. CNN's headquarters at the Time Warner Center in New York evacuated suddenly Wednesday morning after the suspicious package was discovered there.
The network broadcast footage of its staffers flooding the Manhattan streets below, where anchor Jim Sciutto could be seen on a cellphone calling in on the air. Jeff Zucker, president of CNN, wrote in a letter to employees that the center was "evacuated out of an abundance of caution" after the package was found in the mailroom. He also told employees that CNN had checked on its other bureaus but found no other devices.
Chi Li, 28, who works at a technology company near CNN's building, left to run an errand and came back to find the area closed off.
"I always think it's so cool to be so close to CNN," she said. "Maybe now everyone will stop calling them enemy of the people. 'Fake news.'"
As investigators continued to explore the devices and their origins, White House officials and others in Washington decried the string of packages.
"We condemn the attempted violent attacks recently made against President Obama, President Clinton, Secretary Clinton, and other public figures," Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement Wednesday morning. "These terrorizing acts are despicable, and anyone responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. The United States Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies are investigating and will take all appropriate actions to protect anyone threatened by these cowards."
Vice President Mike Pence posted a similar condemnation, calling the devices "despicable" and saying that anyone "responsible will be brought to justice." Trump chimed in after, writing: "I agree wholeheartedly!"
Suspicious letters and packages have been sent to numerous public figures, including President Trump's children. Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, tweeted: "As someone whose family has directly been the victim of these mail threats I condemn whoever did this regardless of party or ideology. This crap has to stop and I hope they end up in jail for a long time."
A letter was sent to Trump Jr.'s home earlier this year that resulted in his wife going to the hospital. A man later pleaded guilty to sending threatening letters with white powder to Trump's sons and other public figures.
Mike DeBonis, Carol Leonnig, Philip Rucker, John Wagner, Souad Mekhennet and Michelle Ye Hee Lee in Washington and Renae Merle in New York contributed to this story.