Citing Safety Concerns, Senator Dayton Closes His Washington Office
BY TOM WEBB, Washington correspondent
October 12, 2004
WASHINGTON _ Citing a top-secret threat, U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton shut his Washington office through Election Day, and Tuesday urged voters and aides to avoid Capitol Hill.
"I do so out of extreme, but necessary, precaution to protect the lives and safety of my Senate staff and my Minnesota constituents," Dayton, D-Minn., told reporters.
Dayton acted after reading a classified memo that was available to all U.S. senators, but said he couldn't discuss its contents. Nevertheless, few _ if any _ other Senate or House lawmakers followed suit, and many were startled by Dayton's actions.
The Washington offices of U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., remains open.
A senior FBI official said that while the bureau remains concerned about an attack before the November election, there is no new information pointing to a time or place. There is also no specific information pointing to an attack on Capitol Hill, the FBI official said.
Law enforcement officials have been warning since the spring about a possible strike before the presidential elections by terrorists who may have been emboldened by the train bombings in Madrid that helped turn the tide in Spain's elections.
Dayton, a freshman elected in 2000, said he read of the threat a couple of weeks ago, at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Evidently, the more Dayton read, the more concerned he became about the possible danger.
"Sen. Frist made us aware of this intelligence report…I've read it, and re-read it, and read other documents related to it, all classified top-secret," Dayton told reporters. When Dayton failed to convince Senate leaders to meet jointly to discuss the threat, he acted alone, calling it a "decision I'm compelled to make."
Asked if his constituents should also stay away, Dayton told reporters, "I wouldn't advise them to come to Capitol Hill."
Checks with a dozen other U.S. Senate and U.S. House offices, however, turned up no other lawmakers who planned to close their offices. Still, Capitol Hill remains a jittery place, teeming with new security procedures, personnel and infrastructure. One Senate Republican office did indicate an awareness of the memo's contents, and that senator had privately told aides they could take time off, if they wanted.
On a practical level, the DC office closing will have minimal impact.
Both the House and Senate largely wrapped up their pre-election business on Monday, save for a one-day session scheduled for Oct. 20. Lawmakers are scheduled to return after the election for a short wrap-up session.
Dayton said he'll continue his work, but from his Ft. Snelling office in Minnesota, not from Washington. His Washington staff will either work from home, from a building away from Capitol Hill, or from Dayton's Minnesota office.
Until now, Dayton has been determined not to let terrorism warnings, war planning or other security threats alter his schedule. The senator has visited Iraq, Afghanistan and other war-torn spots.
"None of us can predict the future," Dayton said in a statement that he read to reporters, and also taped to his office door. "I hope and pray that the precautions I have taken will prove unnecessary. If so, I will accept the inevitable judgments made with perfect hindsight."
Tom Webb can be reached at email@example.com or 202-383-6049
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