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Anthrax Traces Found At Facility That Processes White House Mail

Aired October 24, 2001 - 06:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: It turns out the White House was not immune to the anthrax scares, but President Bush says he is not infected, and he is not scared.

Our White House correspondent Major Garrett setting his alarm clock early to get up with us this morning. Major, good morning to you.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Daryn and Leon.

Well if there was ever any doubt that this is a two-front war against terrorism, one overseas and one here at home, those doubts were completely erased yesterday when the White House announced that, in fact, at an offsite mail facility that intercepts and deals first and foremost with all mail headed to the White House, that that facility had been exposed to a small trace amount of anthrax.

The employees there are being tested and swabbed as are employees who work at the mailroom that delivers mail from that facility to the White House itself. Now that mailroom is not part of the White House compound. It's in the Eisenhower Executive office building. Nevertheless, those employees will be tested and swabbed.

Ari Fleischer, the White House Press Secretary, though said that due to security precautions put in place after September 11th, there is a very high degree of confidence that there is no contamination at the White House whatsoever. All environmental tests done at the White House have proved absolutely negative.

Nevertheless, President Bush yesterday had to answer a question that I don't imagine neither he nor anyone who works for him ever thought would have to be asked or answered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't have anthrax, and the - it's hard for Americans to imagine how evil the people are who are doing this. We're having to adjust our thinking. We're a kind nation, compassionate nation. We're a nation of strong values, and we value life. And we're learning people in this world, you know, want to terrorize our country by trying to take life. They won't succeed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARRETT: Just our thinking, indeed. That's certainly one of the things that's happening here at the White House as White House officials scramble to deal with the various dimensions of this anthrax story, not only as it threatens postal workers here in the Washington, D.C. area and other states, but also it now begins to post some degree of threat to White House personnel at large, though it is worth pointing out, as Ari Fleischer said, there is an exceptionally high degree of confidence nothing has contaminated the White House compound. All environmental tests are negative. The investigation into the source of that anthrax, though, does continue.

Daryn and Leon.

KAGAN: Major, a couple of quick questions for you here, just to be clear and give us a quick geography lesson here. The place where the traces of anthrax was found, as we mentioned, is really far away from the White House.

GARRETT: It's six miles from the White House. It's a military facility, and it's worth pointing out that even before September 11th, all mail destined for the White House, addressed to the White House went to that facility first. Then it went to a mailroom, then to the West Wing of the White House. Now Ari Fleischer would not answer questions yesterday repeatedly placed to him.

Are you telling us that since September 11th, no mail is coming into the West Wing itself. That's how you can be so sure there is no contamination of the West Wing. The West Wing, of course, being where the president and all senior White House staff work. Ari Fleischer would not answer that particular question, only to say that an extremely high degree of confidence, there is nothing that's possibly contaminating the West Wing.

You can infer from that answer that is in all likelihood mail has been stopped from even getting into the West Wing since September 11th.

KAGAN: Major, let's talk about another question not answered. President Bush could not have been more plain stated when he said I do not have anthrax, and yet he really didn't want to talk about being tested or not being tested. Why not?

GARRETT: I don't know the answer to that question. Perhaps the president just prefers not to expose himself to the kind of questions that he thinks would generate more anxiety within the general public, although, let me tell you it's becoming clearer and clearer that's harder and harder to do with each passing day and as this story develops.

But the president said emphatically I don't have anthrax. Again, we're drawing inferences here. You can only ask yourself how can he be so sure if he hasn't been tested. He just said I don't have it, stared down the reporters, would not go to the question or whether or not he'd been tested or is taking Cipro -- only that he doesn't have anthrax. KAGAN: End of discussion, I guess then. Major Garrett at the White House. Thank you.

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