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Text: Sen. Daschle Receives Envelope Containing Anthrax

eMediaMillWorks
eMediaMillWorks
Monday, Oct. 15, 2001

Following is the text of remarks by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD); Lt. Dan Nichols, Capitol Police; and Dr. John Isold, attending physician for the U.S. Capitol on a letter containing suspicous material that initially tested positive for anthrax.

DASCHLE: My office opened a suspicious package. We can't go into the details because this is an ongoing investigation. Just as soon as it became clear that there was a suspicious substance in the envelope, we contacted the Capitol Police and the capitol physician. I'll have more to say about our own circumstances in the office after Dan Nichols of the Capitol Police and Dr. John Isold (ph), our capitol physician, speak to the questions directly as to the letter itself.

Dan Nichols?

NICHOLS: Thank you, Senator.

I'm Lieutenant Dan Nichols. I'm a spokesman with the United States Capitol Police.

As the Senator said, this morning at approximately 10:30, a letter was received in his office in the Hart Senate Office Building which contained a powdery substance. There was an exposure when the letter was opened. Following protocols, the staff who opened the letter immediately contacted U.S. Capitol Police and also contacted the attending physicians office of the Capitol.

The officers responding to the scene isolated the situation, and according to our protocols we conducted field tests. The first field test came back as positive for anthrax. In order to confirm that, we did a second field test and that field test also came back as positive for anthrax. It should be noted, though, that these are just preliminary tests. They are field tests only, and we have sent this material out to Fort Detrick, Maryland to the U.S. Army facility there for further testing, and we hope to have confirmation exactly what the material is here very shortly.

However, precaution dictates that we go ahead and proceed as if there was an exposure, and in order to protect the staff and ensure that we followed proper medical procedures, Dr. Isold (ph), the attending physician of the Capitol, sent his team over. There was isolation of the staff while we did decontamination. And I believe there have already been medical procedures undertaken as far as antibiotics.

I need to caution everyone that this is a criminal investigation now, and we're very limited in the information that we can put forward. This is not totally unexpected, though. U.S. Capitol Police has been working closely with leadership and other law enforcement agencies, and also the Department of Defense in preparation for this type of event. Unfortunately today it came to pass within our jurisdiction.

But the precautions we've taken in the past, the education campaign we have given to the staff and the members of Congress came into play today and it worked as it should. And 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.

Right now, I have with me Dr. Isold (ph), who is the attending physician in the Capitol. He is going to give some information about the medical side of this and how we're treating the staff.

Dr. Isold (ph)?

ISOLD (ph): The medical response as much as you've heard from other places in the country, responded promptly after the police had cleared the area for the medical personnel to be involved. Appropriate people were identified who potentially could have come in contact with the exposure. They have been swabbed and they will be tested now to see if they indeed do have any of the spores. In the meantime, until we can identify whether or not it truly is an exposure and if people are positive for their testing, then in the meantime we will treat them with Cipro--again, as you have heard in other situations.

DASCHLE: I have had a conversation with my staff. I have not had a conversation yet with the person most directly involved in the incident, as that staff person is still undergoing the processing that you just heard described. I've spoken to a member of the family of the particular staff person, and there are other staff who were in the area, whose families I will be calling as well.

I would say without equivocation our staff feel very confident about their circumstances, and they've been given assurances, as Dr. Isold (ph) and Mr. Nichols have just noted, that there is no immediate danger for them, given the fact that we were able to respond as quickly and as directly as we could.

So I believe that the circumstances are well under control in the office. 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.

So at this point, the office is quarantined. Staff are not leaving. The office is officially closed until all of the procedures have been satisfactorily addressed.

With that, we'll take a few questions. As I say, Mr. Nichols has noted that because there is an ongoing investigation, there probably isn't as much specific information that we can provide, but we'd be happy to try to do so.

QUESTION: Senator, how do you feel about being targeted?

DASCHLE: Well first of all I'm concerned deeply for my staff, and I feel so badly for each of them. They are innocent people caught up in a matter for which they have nothing to do. I am very, very disappointed and angered. I am confident, however, as I said a moment ago, that because we anticipated something like this, we are able to deal with it as successfully as we are this morning. So I'm very gratified with the rapid response made by the sergeant-at-arms, by the Capitol Police, and certainly our capitol physician.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle, can you confirm for us that the letter was from Trenton, New Jersey and did it have any kind of a letter in it?

DASCHLE: I cannot confirm any of the details, under the advisement of the Capitol Police.

QUESTION: Senator, are you confident that there were enough procedures in place before today to screen for a biological or chemical (OFF-MIKE)?

DASCHLE: I am confident that given the short notice that we've had that circumstances like this could present themselves that we were in as good a position to respond as quickly as possible. As I said just a moment ago, I am gratified with our ability to respond as rapidly and successfully as we have.

QUESTION: Mr. Daschle, how many people in your office are taking antibiotics now? And how many people came in contact with the letter?

DASCHLE: We don't know how many people came in contact with the letter. There were 40 people in my office at the time.

QUESTION: Are they all taking antibiotics?

DASCHLE: I can't acknowledge that because I'm not quite sure.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

DASCHLE: I'd rather not comment about any of the specifics, again under the advisement of the Capitol Police.

QUESTION: When and where did you find out the suspicious letter had arrived at your office?

DASCHLE: Well, as soon as the staff person noticed the letter, the individual involved contacted our office manager. The office manager contacted my chief of staff, Pete Rouse, and he contacted me.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle, do you think tours should be continued--should the Capitol still be open to tourists? Should tourists still be allowed to come through the Capitol?

DASCHLE: I think we need to keep this Capitol as accessible as is possible. I don't know that we can come to any permanent conclusions about what that means at this point, but I think the emphasis ought to be that this monument to democracy is accessible to all people, even under circumstances like this.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) under way an effort to get some kind of centralized screening process in place for these things before they get to the offices?

DASCHLE: Well, the Capitol Police and the sergeant-at-arms and others are examining ways with which to enhance even further our defensive mechanisms, the operations that we now employ to prevent this kind of circumstance from occurring. But obviously, those are all under review.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) that caused you to call the other leaders? Were there additional threats in it for other members?

DASCHLE: No. I just thought that it was an obvious thing to do, given the fact that it happened in my office this morning. If it happened in my office, I just assumed that it was possible that it could happen elsewhere and I felt that they deserved to know.

I would also say, by the way, that Dr. Isold (ph) had just briefed us last week about these circumstances and about the need to take procedures. And it was in keeping with that conversation that I made the calls.

QUESTION: Senator, did you say that the person who opened the envelope is taking antibiotics?

DASCHLE: That's correct. It's just as a preventive measure.

QUESTION: Are you?

DASCHLE: I am not.

QUESTION: Have you been to your office in the Hart Building?

DASCHLE: I can't. It's quarantined and I'm unable to go.

QUESTION: Senator, do you think the exposure has extended beyond your staff because of the way mail is routed through the Capitol?

DASCHLE: I can't answer questions like that. I really don't know at this point the extent to which there may be other concerns for exposure, but we're examining those as well.

QUESTION: Is the FBI investigating this?

DASCHLE: I can't comment on that. I'm not sure it's appropriate at this point.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what about the letter was suspicious? Were there markings that were...?

DASCHLE: I can't. Again, I want to emphasize, Mr. Nichols has said that this is being treated as a criminal investigation and the specifics I think at this point if they are prematurely revealed could hamper their investigation. We don't want to do that.

QUESTION: Have you shut off mail delivery to the Senate offices?

DASCHLE: Correct.

QUESTION: All Senate offices?

DASCHLE: Yes.

QUESTION: Has the air conditioning been cut off, too?

DASCHLE: I can't comment on that.

QUESTION: Senator, what do you think the risk is here? I mean, one person has died, and since then virtually everybody else it seems as though they have recovered. What do you think the risk is from these incidents?

DASCHLE: I can't assess the risk level. 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.

Thank you all very much.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company