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Daschle: 'They were trying to kill someone'

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Parts of eight floors of the Hart Senate Office Building were closed Tuesday as authorities searched for anthrax. The move comes a day after a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office in that building field-tested positive for the potentially deadly bacterium.

A government source told CNN the anthrax was "high grade, very virulent and sophisticated."

"Clearly, they were trying to kill somebody," Daschle, D-South Dakota, told CNN. "What this says to me is that there is an orchestrated effort under way, and that it may hit again. So we need to be ready for it."

An already jittery Washington grows more nervous after a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office tests positive for anthrax. CNN's Jonathan Karl reports (October 16)

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CNN's Paula Zahn talks to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle about the positive test of anthrax in his office (October 16)

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List of closed Senate offices 

Earlier, he said the employee who opened the letter was "doing well," and that, so far, no one in his office has tested positive for the disease.

"There have been no indications that there is a health or a medical problem among any of my staff, and I'm quite confident that will remain the case," Daschle said.

Sources told CNN Correspondent Jonathan Karl the handwriting on the letter appeared to match the handwriting on the letter sent to anchor Tom Brokaw at NBC last week. The FBI released pictures of the envelopes Tuesday.

Offices on the southeast corner of the Hart building between the first and eighth floors were closed for testing, according to a written statement from the Capitol physician.

"It is possible that through the ventilation system some of the anthrax bacteria could have been disseminated to other parts of the office," Daschle said. "So in order to absolutely ensure that there was no dissemination we are taking every precaution necessary."

An Army testing center at Fort Detrick, Maryland, confirmed that the Daschle envelope contained anthrax, Lt. Dan Nichols, a spokesman for the U.S. Capitol Police, said Tuesday. A day earlier, two preliminary field tests came back positive. About 50 people who were in Daschle's office at the time the letter was opened have begun a prophylactic regimen of antibiotics, Nichols said.

In addition, more than 1,000 people who were either working in the Hart building or were in it when the letter was opened showed up for testing for anthrax and were given a three-day prescription of the antibiotic Cipro as a precaution.

Mail delivery in the Capitol complex has been halted until procedures on how to handle it are put into place, Nichols said. He said he did not know when mail delivery at the Capitol would be resumed.

All tours of the Capitol have been suspended indefinitely. They were canceled immediately after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon but resumed about a week later.

And the FBI has been brought in to investigate the anthrax case. "This is now a criminal matter," Nichols said.

Despite the finding of anthrax so near the Capitol, the House and Senate were in session Tuesday, and the galleries were open.

Daschle's office was quarantined and will remain so for several days as the cleanup takes place.

The Daschle letter was postmarked in Trenton, New Jersey, FBI officials said. The letter was received at Daschle's office Friday and opened Monday morning.


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