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Senator Bill Frist Updates Ricin Investigation

Aired February 4, 2004 - 16:39   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take our viewers straight to Capitol Hill, where Senator Bill Frist and the chief of the Capitol Hill Police are talking to reporters.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: ... continue to give the community here in the region of the United States Senate the appropriate information, but also more broadly, because this affects a lot of people, and a lot of people not just here in the Washington, D.C. area, but a lot of people who depend on our mail system, for example. And I think it's very important that we continue this flow of information.

First, I am happy to report that, thus far, everybody is doing fine. And I start with those people who are in my mailroom, my own staff, who responded so appropriately. And I'm very proud of the way they responded in terms of the recognition, identification, and notification of the ricin. So, this is good news, important news.

We are outside of the window that we would expect there to be symptoms or disease, well outside that window at this juncture. So, that's very good news. Second, we're making tremendous progress in terms of the task of collecting mail throughout the very large Capitol complex. It is going well. Officials moved very quickly. And they've moved very aggressively in a very coordinated way to this threat.

I announced two hours ago a very specific schedule for reopening the Senate office buildings, which have been closed. The Russell Office Building will open Thursday, February 5 at noon. The Hart Senate Office Building will open Friday, February 6 at 9:00 a.m. And the Dirksen Office Building will open Monday, February 9 at 7:00 a.m.

As all of you know, there is ongoing testing, and, as a response to that testing, or the findings or laboratory results, this schedule could change. But it is important that my Senate colleagues and their staff understand what the targeted times of openings are. And that certainty, we gave them just about two hours ago.

I do want to thank all of the staff of this great institution. It's -- they have been very patient in very uncertain times, working at home, working in hallways, working here in the Capitol Building, really, wherever they can. I thank my Senate colleagues, but especially their staff, for their patience and support as we confronted a difficult situation. And when I say their staff, I obviously include the thousands of people who make this infrastructure, the Senate office buildings, work, whether it's keeping them clean, keeping the lights on and the water flowing as well.

I also want to acknowledge the tremendous work, the fine work, of the people who are up here with me and to thank the many organizations that they reflect and represent, the sergeant at arms, the secretary of the Senate's office, the Capitol Police, all of the law enforcement agencies who have responded so aggressively, also the U.S. Marines, who are here helping us with this, the CDC, the joint task force, the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency.

And I also want to thank the press. When we're trying to communicate in uncertain times, we are very much dependent upon all of you, the press, to get that message out and to get it out in a way that is substantive, that is not overly threatening, that reflects the realities of the situation that we address. This is a life- threatening issue. And it is a toxic poison that we are dealing with.

And people here in the United States Senate were confronted with that up front and closely. And your help has been tremendous. This is the second time in just a little over two years that this great institution has been assaulted by a hazardous substance. It's the second time that the mail has been used to deliver -- to deliver agents that can be called bioterrorism, in the sense that we are subjected to a hazardous substance that has an intent to terrorize.

As a result of the fact that we've had this assault twice, I believe all procedures to process and to deliver mail have been greatly improved. But, as we pointed out, we'll be addressing that again and again to make sure that we are doing everything humanly possible to protect our staff, and, at the same time, carry out our responsibilities to communicate effectively with our constituents.

This building has -- has been burned down. This building has been attacked. This building has been assaulted in the course of its great history. But, somehow this great institution, just like the people that it represents, continues to demonstrate resiliency, continues to demonstrate toughness, and continues to demonstrate its ability to bounce back.

The fact that the nation's business has continued through this assault, I think, is testimony to that. With that...

WOODRUFF: We're listening to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, in essence, giving a reassuring word to reporters at the Capitol, saying, we are now well outside the window in which we would expect there to be any symptoms or disease as a result of the ricin, traces of ricin, the toxic substance, found in the Capitol in the offices -- in the mailroom in the offices of Senator -- of Senator Frist.

So, the senator reiterating what we heard a little while ago, that the Senate office buildings will be opening, some of them tomorrow, some Friday, and finally the offices in the Dirksen Building, where the substance was found, on Monday.

So, we continue to follow that story. And we'll bring you any developments as we learn about them.


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