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Anthrax Suspected in Letter Sent to Senator Tom Daschle

Aired October 15, 2001 - 14:02   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The latest anthrax scare comes from Capitol Hill. A letter received on Friday at the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was opened today. And the preliminary testing on the substance inside -- two tests -- indicate anthrax.

Jonathan Karl joins us again to update us on what he's been able to learn -- Jonathan, good afternoon.


Yes, just to restate, the FBI, an FBI source confirming to CNN that the letter, the suspicious letter that had the anthrax in it was postmarked Trenton, New Jersey -- opened at about 10:30 this morning. And then things started to happen very quickly around here, Aaron. By 11:30, all mail to all congressional offices was halted. You have now heard -- you reported a few minutes ago that all public tours of the Capitol have been halted indefinitely, according to the Capitol Police.

And, also, we've learned some details about precautions that were put in place to prevent just this kind of incident from happening in the wake of the anthrax reports in Florida, and then, of course, later in NBC in New York and at "The New York Times."

What we have learned is that the sergeant at arms for the Senate -- that is the person in charge of all Capitol security -- sent a lengthy memo to all Senate office managers, a memo that went out just five days ago about what to do and how to detect suspicious packages. And it went through some of that stuff that we've become very familiar with, things like what defines a suspicious package -- well, excessive postage, hand-written or poorly typed addresses, incorrect titles, no return addresses, stains, discolorations, etcetera.

This memo goes on to tell Senate office managers and House office managers how to deal with those suspicious packages. So they were very much aware, the Capitol Police up here and the offices of the various congressional leaders and members, that this was a real threat to the Capitol, to the people that are up here. So they were aware that something like this would happen.

And we've been told, also, that there have been additional security enhancements that went into effect today -- of course, not soon enough for this package, because, as you just said, what the FBI has told us is this package was actually delivered to Tom Daschle's office in the Senate Hart Building on Friday, although it was not opened until 10:30 this morning.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: 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.


KARL: Well, Aaron, that was Tom Daschle, who, a short while ago, held a press conference with the spokesperson for the Capitol Police, Lieutenant Dan Nichols, talking about how he believes that the safety measures that have been in place are going to be effective -- but Daschle also expressing real concern for his staff.

And, as a matter of fact, Aaron, Daschle's office in the Hart Building -- it's his personal office -- has been sealed off. It is under quarantine. And there are 40 staffers, Daschle says, that were in the office at the time this happened. They have been quarantined. Daschle can't get to them. They can't get out. We are told that is simply a precaution that they are taking, that Daschle believes that the other members of his staff are OK -- back to you, Aaron.

BROWN: OK. I have one question. I am just going through my notes with the postal inspector. He talked about a letter dated September 18. That's -- I'm almost certain, based on everything else he said, he's talking about the NBC letter there. We know that your Washington letter was postmarked Trenton. Do we know the date?

KARL: We do not know.

And, as a matter of fact, neither Daschle nor the Capitol police will confirm the Trenton postmark -- that information coming to us from the FBI -- but up here, very tight-lipped. They say this is a criminal investigation. They are not putting out much in the way of details.

BROWN: OK. Well, one of the things that we will try and figure out -- I'm sure you will, too -- is the date on that letter. I don't honestly know whether that will prove to be relevant or not. But we do know, based on what the postal inspector in Trenton said, that the NBC letter, which is the one confirmed letter with anthrax -- they'll still treat the Daschle letter as unconfirmed anthrax at this point -- had a September 18 postage stamp on it and came from Trenton -- Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Aaron, the person who actually broke the public -- broke the word to the public about the anthrax -- or alleged anthrax -- in the letter to Senator Daschle's office was President Bush himself talking to reporters out on the White House Rose Garden after a meeting with the Italian prime minister, Berlusconi. After that, the president went off and spoke to senior officials of the federal government.

Right now, I want to talk, though, to our White House correspondent, Kelly Wallace.

And, Kelly, my question to you -- we'll get to what the president said in just a minute -- but my fist question to you is: What precautions are in place at the White House for the kind of problems they're facing right now at the Capitol?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, you won't be surprised to hear that the White House won't discuss exact security measures that are in place.

All they will say is, there were security precautions in place when it came to the mail even before the September 11 attacks, that those measures have been strengthened since the attack, and that they continue to review security measures. But they won't discuss their security steps they're taking, in part, obviously, not to spread the word out to anyone interested in engaging in a criminal or potentially terrorist behavior. So the word from the White House is: security measures strengthened since September 11 and continue to be strengthened.

We do know -- we reported -- CNN reporting last week that all 8,300 federal buildings managed by the General Services Administration have received new strict guidelines when it comes to screening mail: things like checking the postmark, not opening anything suspicious, not shaking mail, opening mail carefully -- so new measures definitely going out to all federal buildings based on those new guidelines.

And, Judy, as for the president, who broke this news, as you noted, we did learn that he learned of this at the end of meeting with the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. A staffer informed him of this, at which point, we're told by an administration official, the president called Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to learn about this, obviously express his concern. And then, of course, he came out.

And when he was asked a question about if he knew of any government offices that may have received letters containing -- possibly containing anthrax, the president did reveal the news about the letter going to Senator Daschle's office.

One other thing the president was asked even before we learned about this latest case, he was asked if he believed the cases in New York, Nevada and Florida, the anthrax cases, could be linked to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization -- the president saying no conclusive evidence just yet. But Mr. Bush said he wouldn't put it past Osama bin Laden.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There may be some possible link. We have no hard data yet. But it's clear that Mr. bin Laden is man who is an evil man. He and his spokesmen are openly bragging how they hope to inflict more pain on our country. So we're watching every piece of evidence. We're making sure that we connect any dots that we have to find out who is doing this. And I wouldn't put it past him. But we don't have hard evidence yet. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: And, Judy, I can tell you -- we just came out of a briefing with Doctor Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, briefing reporters about the president's upcoming trip for an economic summit in China. She used the word the vice president used Friday. One has to be suspicious here. She said you can't rule out a linkage. But she said we don't have any conclusive evidence yet -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And, Kelly, what about this new threatening language coming out of the al Qaeda organization? Our CNN correspondent Nic Robertson, of course, on that tour the Taliban conducted for reporters in Afghanistan over the last couple of days -- and, as you've just mentioned, as the president did, the word coming from them is there's more in store for the United States if more civilians are killed.

WALLACE: Well, absolutely.

We asked Ari Fleischer, the president's spokesman, about Nic Robertson's reporting, how he said that these al Qaeda members said that if Afghan homes are destroyed, there would be -- quote -- "serious consequences" for the United States -- Fleischer saying that the president is not in the habit of responding to -- quote -- "utterances" from the al Qaeda group and the Taliban.

And another interesting thing, Judy: We saw over the weekend that the al Qaeda group released another statement, another pretaped statement by its spokesman -- and the administration not responding at all, other than to call it just more propaganda. So you see the administration not at all, publicly or even privately, trying to give any credit to these statements, just saying its campaign against terrorism continues -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Kelly Wallace at the White House.




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