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The White House press briefing was interrupted on Tuesday by a bomb threat, prompting an unusual evacuation that raised questions about security procedures in the complex.

A Secret Service officer interrupted White House spokesman Josh Earnest's televised briefing shortly after 2 p.m. and then escorted reporters out of the building.

“Oh, Jesus,” one reporter remarked. 

“We’ll come back,” Earnest said. 

The reporters were led into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is across a driveway from the West Wing. Less than 30 minutes later, a uniformed Secret Service officer gave an all-clear signal and reporters were led back to the building.


Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary attributed the evacuation to a “telephonic bomb threat concerning the White House briefing room” that was called in to the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C. 

After the Secret Service was informed of the threat, the briefing room was evacuated and swept for explosives as a precaution, Leary said. No other sections of the White House were affected, and no devices were discovered during the sweep.

The incident, which played out on live television, prompted questions from reporters about the scope and handling of the evacuation.  

The West Wing is a relatively small complex. The Oval Office is only a short distance away from the briefing room and an area that serves as the workspace for press staff and reporters. 

President Obama remained in the Oval Office; the first family was in the residence and was also not evacuated, Earnest said in a statement later on Tuesday.

Asked earlier in the day if the president was ever in danger, Earnest replied, “certainly not that I'm aware of.”

Leary said in a separate statement Tuesday evening the evacuation was confined to the briefing room "due to the specific nature of the threat," but did not explain further.   

He declined to comment on whether the incident was linked to the Senate evacuation, citing an ongoing investigation. 

During the evacuation, cameras that are the property of news organizations were tilted down toward the ground on the White House driveway and away from the West Wing. Cameras inside the briefing room were covered.

After the evacuation, an unidentified man wearing a White House staff badge was seen on a video feed attaching newspaper on top of camera lenses in the briefing room.

Earnest said he did not know why the cameras were covered, after several reporters noted that the cameras are private property.

The cameras were covered in the midst of the search for explosive devices, which authorities might be sensitive about televising. 

While reporters were out of the briefing room, Earnest said officers swept the room looking for explosives with canine units and "experts." He said the Secret Service made the call about whom to evacuate. 

“The White House was evacuated for the safety of all of us and the Secret Service, using resources they keep here on the complex, was able to quickly search this location and conclude that it was safe,” Earnest said. 

White House evacuations are relatively rare; the last one occurred nine months ago, after a man jumped the fence and ran into the executive mansion.

The White House evacuation came within hours of an evacuation at the Dirksen Senate Office Building due to a bomb scare. It’s not clear if the two incidents were linked. 

This story was updated at 7:40 p.m.