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Inside Politics

Dayton defends decision to close Senate office

Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minnesota
Capitol Hill

(CNN) -- Sen. Mark Dayton Wednesday defended his decision to close his Capitol Hill office until after the November 2 election, saying it would have been "immoral" to leave his staff members as "human shields" facing a possible terrorist attack while he returned home to Minnesota.

"I can't predict the future. I don't know what the future holds, but I do know that the safety and lives of my staff are my responsibility," Dayton told CNN's "Wolf Blitzer Reports." "And I'm not going to leave them there exposed to risks that I'm not there to take myself."

Congress has recessed until after the election, with Dayton and most lawmakers returning to their home states.

Dayton announced Tuesday that he would close his office in the Senate Russell Office Building as "an extreme but necessary precaution," citing a top-secret intelligence report on the possibility of terror threats presented two weeks ago by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

However, no other Senate or House members have taken the same precaution, and both the U.S. Capitol Police and Department of Homeland Security insisted they have received no new threat information identifying either the Capitol or Washington as a specific target.

Elaborating on the reasoning behind his decision, Dayton also said "the report I read didn't identify specific location."

"But the 9/11 commission concluded that the fourth hijacked plane on that date that crashed in Pennsylvania was returning to destroy the Capitol. And al Qaeda has a history of going back to those places where it's unsuccessful and attempting again," he told Blitzer.

The Minnesota Democrat also pointed to a recent video posted on an Islamist Web site on which al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, exhorts followers to attack British and American interests. He said a similar message preceded the March attacks on a commuter train in Madrid days before a Spanish parliamentary election.

A number of Dayton's fellow lawmakers were critical of his decision.

"I got the same briefing he did. So did 534 other senators and congressmen," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. "Obviously, there's a high threat to the country -- New York and Washington are always in the cross hairs. But it's no different now than it was a month ago or two months ago."

"Why he's decided to do this -- either he's overreacting, whether he's showboating or what, I really don't know -- but he's sending a terrible signal to the country that's really an abdication of responsibility and leadership."

But Dayton responded that protecting staff members was more important than sending a signal.

"To leave our young staffs there as human shields so we can make a statement, I think, is the height of irresponsibility," he told Blitzer.

The senator also said he "wouldn't advise anyone to visit Capitol Hill who wasn't required to do so between now and the election," adding that he would not bring his two sons there, either.

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