Targeting current and former high-ranking U.S. government officials with explosive devices “is an attack on our democracy itself,” U.S. President Donald Trump told a political rally for Republican Party candidates Wednesday evening.
His remarks, in the state of Wisconsin, came after federal officials said they were seeking to find who has sent pipe bombs to former President Barack Obama and Trump’s 2016 presidential election opponent Hillary Clinton and other prominent Democrats.
Throughout the day, leaders from both the major parties called for a return to civility in the political arena, a theme Trump picked up on at the rally.
WATCH: Trump Calls for Unity, Blames Media Amid Bomb Threats
“No one should carelessly compare political opponents to historical villains, which is done often and all the time. It’s got to stop,” the president said. “We should not mob people in public spaces or destroy public property. There is one way to settle our disagreements — it’s called peacefully, at the ballot box. That’s what we want.”
Trump, known for his personal criticism of others in the public arena, also requested people “stop treating political opponents as being morally defective.”
WATCH: President Trump on Investigation, Political Violence
In an uncharacteristically muted tone for his political rallies, Trump who noted, “I’m trying to be nice” also blamed the media for the negative national tone.
“The media also has a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative, and, often times, false attacks,” he said.
CNN President Jeff Zucker issued a statement saying members of the Trump administration have a “complete lack of understanding” about the seriousness of their frequent attacks against the media.
“The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that,” Zucker said.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded on Twitter, accusing Zucker of being divisive.
“[President Trump] asked Americans ‘to come together and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the USA’ Yet you chose to attack and divide. America should unite against all political violence,” Sanders posted.
Pipe bombs ‘abhorrent’
Earlier, speaking at the White House, Trump said he was “extremely angry and unhappy” to learn about the packages containing pipe bombs, saying it was “abhorrent” and “despicable.”
Packages were also sent to a former attorney general, a Democratic Party member of Congress and a former director of the CIA, all of whom are prominent critics of his presidency.
“The safety of the American people is my highest priority,” Trump said during a White House event.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the top two Democrats in Congress, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, accusing Trump of fanning the flames of political unrest.
“Time and time again, the president has condoned physical violence and divided Americans with his words and his actions,” they wrote, pointing to recent Trump campaign rallies where he has voiced support for a legislator who used physical violence against a reporter, and where he has branded the press as enemies of the people.
Within hours of the U.S. Secret Service announcing it had intercepted a package sent to Clinton in New York and one to Obama in Washington, the Time Warner Center in New York, where news network CNN has studios, was evacuated Wednesday morning after a suspicious package addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan was found in the mail room there.
A device that was contained in an envelope was safely transported from the site in a special truck by the city’s police department bomb squad. The addressee, Brennan, is a commentator on MSNBC, a rival cable news broadcaster.
‘An act to terrorize’
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray is terming the investigation the FBI’s highest priority.
“We have committed the full strength of the FBI’s resources and, together with our partners on our Joint Terrorism Task Forces, we will continue to work to identify and arrest whoever is responsible for sending these packages,” Wray said in a statement.
New York police officials said it appeared to be a live explosive device and the package it came in also contained a white powder.
“What we saw here today was clearly an act to terrorize,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, but stressed there were no other credible threats in New York City.
The police department in Sunrise, Florida, and the FBI are investigating a suspicious package found near a building containing the local office of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who formerly chaired the Democratic National Committee. News reports say the package was addressed to Eric Holder, the attorney general during the Obama administration but had a delivery issue and was returned to the listed sender, Wasserman Schultz.
All of the other suspicious packages also contained a printed label with the congresswoman’s name and address as the sender.
The Secret Service says the package addressed to Clinton was discovered late Tuesday, intercepted at a mail screening facility near her home in a New York suburb where she lives with her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Speaking on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton thanked the Secret Service for intercepting the package that was addressed to her.
“It is a troubling time, isn’t it? It’s a time of deep divisions and we have to do everything we can to bring our country together,” said the former secretary of state at an event in Florida.
A separate package addressed to Obama, according to the Secret Service, was intercepted at a screening facility at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, a 365-hectare military facility in Washington.
California Congresswoman Maxine Waters was sent two suspect packages, one intended for her office in the nation’s capital and the other for her home district office. The first was intercepted at a congressional mail sorting center in the state of Maryland, and the second discovered by postal inspectors at the Los Angeles Central Mail Sorting Facility.
The first in the series of explosive devices was found Monday in a mailbox outside the home in the state of New York of billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a major donor to Democratic candidates.
The Secret Service said the packages addressed to Obama and Hillary Clinton “were immediately identified during routine mail screening procedures as potential explosive devices and were appropriately handled as such. The protectees [Obama and the Clintons] did not receive the packages nor were they at risk of receiving them.”
Officials say all of the explosive devices appear similar in construction.
VOA’s Masood Farivar and Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.