Anthrax Shuts Down Senate Majority Leader's Office

WASHINGTON, DC, October 15, 2001 (ENS) - A letter was opened in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office today containing a powdery substance that has tested positive for anthrax in two preliminary field tests.

Daschle's office has been placed under quarantine and mail delivery to all Senate offices has been stopped. Public tours through the U.S. Capitol have been suspended.

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Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (Photos courtesy Office of the Senator)
The staff person who opened the letter immediately called the United States Capitol Police, who have begun a criminal investigation.

At a news conference this afternoon to explain the incident Senator Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, said, "We don't know how many people came in contact with the letter. There were 40 people in my office at the time."

"I'm concerned deeply for my staff, and I feel so badly for each of them," said the senator. "They are innocent people caught up in a matter for which they have nothing to do. I am very, very disappointed and angered."

Senator Daschle has notified President George W. Bush and the other Senate and House leaders, as well as the family of the staff person exposed, who has not been identified.

"I did contact each of the other members of leadership just to warn them that something may occur in their offices as it has in mine, and the President had called earlier today and we discussed the matter as well," Daschle said.

President Bush said, "I spoke to the Leader; he is, obviously, concerned, as am I. The key thing for the American people is to be cautious about letters that come from somebody you may not know, unmarked letters, letters that have got - that look suspicious. And give those letters and packages to local law authorities."

Lieutenant Dan Nichols with the United States Capitol Police said more testing will be done on the powdery substance. "We have sent this material out to Fort Detrick, Maryland to the U.S. Army facility there for further testing."

"We are taking further precautions now to screen mail and try to prevent this from occurring within the legislative branch of the government. But this is a time when prudence dictates we take all possible precautions, and we educate the staff as best we can to be prepared for future incidents that may occur," Lt. Nichols said.

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Senator Daschle at work in his Capitol Hill office
Capitol physician Dr. John Eisold told reporters that people were identified who could have been exposed. "They have been swabbed, and they will be tested now to see if they indeed do have any of the spores." In the meantime, they will be treated with the antibiotic Cipro.

Senator Daschle has not been able to go to his office in the Hart Office Building where the contaminated letter was found. "I can't," the senator said. "It's quarantined and I'm unable to go."

Asked to assess the risk level, the senator was realistic. "I think as the President has said on many occasions, we have to be alert. We have to recognize that the risk is higher than it was a few weeks ago, but we have to live our lives. We have to conduct our business here in the Congress and across this country, and we intend to do that."