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Inside Politics

Senator closes Capitol Hill office over terror worries

From John Bisney
CNN


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Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minnesota
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minnesota, closed his Capitol Hill office Tuesday until after the November 2 election, fearing a possible terrorist attack that could harm his staff or visitors.

However, U.S. government officials said there was no new intelligence concerning a possible attack, and authorities said congressional members have not been advised to close their offices.

"There's no new threat or information pertaining to a threat that's come in. We continue to advise (people) to take caution ... but there's no new information that we've put out," said Sgt. Contricia Ford of the U.S. Capitol Police.

Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, added: "We have not made a recommendation for any members of Congress to close their offices, and we do not have any specific threat reporting indicating that Washington, D.C., and the Capitol is a target."

But Dayton told reporters in Minneapolis that Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, recently briefed lawmakers on a "top-secret intelligence report on our national security."

"I would not bring my two sons to Capitol Hill between now and the elections," he said.

Dayton issued a statement earlier in the day, announcing that he was closing his Washington office until after the election.

"I do so out of extreme, but necessary, precaution to protect the lives and safety of my Senate staff and my Minnesota constituents, who might otherwise visit my office in the next few weeks. I feel compelled to do so, because I will not be here in Washington to share in what I consider to be an unacceptably greater risk to their safety."

Dayton said he could not give details of the intelligence report that Frist presented to senators two weeks ago. Dayton said he's asked Frist three times to convene a meeting of all senators to discuss the situation, but Frist has not agreed.

The third floor of the Russell building, which is across the street from the Capitol, also includes the offices of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts.

Dayton will move part of his staff to his office in the Fort Snelling Federal Building in Minnesota and other operations to Senate office space away from Capitol Hill. Telephone calls will be routed to his Minnesota office.

Congress is in recess until after the election.

Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the Senate leadership has kept senators "fully apprised" of threats against the U.S. Capitol, but he has seen nothing to prompt the need to close his office.

"Given the briefings I have received to date, I do not feel the need to alter our office work schedule, or to take extraordinary steps such as those announced by Senator Dayton," Warner said.

"Even when the Senate is out of session, we have a job to do to serve our constituents, and in the war on terror, we can't let non-imminent threats prevent us from doing our work."

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, echoed that sentiment.

"I know of no specific threat that would cause me to shut down the office," he said in a written statement.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, said, "We in Congress have a responsibility to our constituents and to our nation to carry forward with our work, and that's what I intend to do."

According to a notice circulated among Democratic senators' staff, Sen. Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, has asked the Sergeant at Arms to brief senators' chiefs of staff and office managers Wednesday about the threat level to the Capitol.

The notice added, "No one in Homeland Security has recommended closing offices or closing the Capitol building. The Daschle office will remain open."

U.S. government officials confirmed that a briefing was held for Senate leadership a couple of weeks ago to provide lawmakers with an update on the ongoing possibility that terrorists might strike during the period preceding the November 2 election.

But officials said there was no new intelligence concerning an attack and no specifics about a possible time or place. Officials said Washington has consistently been mentioned in threat information received by the government as a possible terrorist target, as is the Capitol, which was believed to have been the intended target of the plane hijacked on September 11, 2001, that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

But the officials emphasized there is nothing new to suggest an attack is being planned on Washington or the Capitol.

Senior law enforcement officials told CNN Tuesday they know of "no specific or credible information that would prompt such an action," referring to Dayton's office closure.

CNN's Kelli Arena, Jeanne Meserve, Steve Turnham and Mike Ahlers contributed to this story.


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