Reporters were evacuated from the White House briefing room on Tuesday and television cameras covered after a bomb threat was called into the building.
President Barack Obama, who was in the Oval Office at the time of the incident, was not evacuated. Neither were First Lady Michelle Obama or her daughters, Malia and Sasha, who were in the residence at the time, said Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who was mid-way through the daily briefing and went back to his office after the alert.
Secret Service agents searched the room in the West Wing with bomb-sniffing dogs before reporters were let back in 40 minutes later and the briefing resumed. Earnest, whose office is not far from the briefing room, told reporters that the threat, which was called into the Washington, D.C. police department, had identified the room as the location of the purported bomb.
It was the only room to be evacuated, Earnest said.
Stationary news cameras that remained on after the reporters were evacuated showed a Secret Service officer leading a dog on a leash through the room and along the aisles of blue seats. Those cameras were later redirected so as not to televise the sweep.
The bizarre incident unfolded on camera in the middle of the afternoon briefing, as Secret Service agents came into the room in the West Wing, telling reporters they were “sweeping” the room and they needed to evacuate.
Earnest and the White House press staff disappeared into the press area and the press corps, after initial confusion, was moved outside the White House to the South Court auditorium in the neighboring Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
The briefing resumed after the all-clear with reporters pressing Earnest on the decision not to evacuate White House staff. He referred questions about the decision to the Secret Service, but said he had “complete confidence in the professionalism of the men and women of the Secret Service to make judgments about what's necessary to keep all of us safe.”
“For questions about why those decisions were made and how they were made, you can direct them to the Secret Service,” Earnest said. “We ready to move on to other topics?”