The man, apparently of Chinese descent, stood in front of the Capitol with two large suitcases, CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports. The odd request and his black clothing triggered alarms, and soon the police had surrounded him with a SWAT team.
The man refused to say anything else to an officer who tried to talk with him, authorities said.
"He was not very responsive," said U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer. "The officer felt it was a possible suicide bomber."
The man was tackled by the SWAT team and charged with disobeying a police officer. A three-hour investigation of the suitcases, including blasting them with a water cannon, revealed nothing threatening, Gainer said.
Stewart reports that the man, who had been carrying two rolling suitcases, was injured by the squad. He was forcibly knocked forward and his face pushed against the cement.
His pieces of luggage were X-rayed one at a time, and then opened with explosive devices. What was found? Nothing more than dirty socks and other clothing, a CD player and a watch, among other personal belongings.
Officials refuse to identify the man involved other than to say he was 33 years old, from China and carrying no identification.
The midday incident — which occurred at the peak of the cherry blossoms in one of Washington's busiest tourist seasons — led police to evacuate the West Lawn.
The Senate side of the building was evacuated, reports CBS News Congressional Correspondent Bob Fuss. People on the House side were told to stay away from windows facing West and a large area around the Capitol also was cleared, including the area where tourists line up for tours.
By late afternoon, normal daytime activity had resumed at the Capitol.
An officer first saw the man standing near a fountain with a suitcase on either side of him, staring silently at the building around 12:40 p.m., Gainer said.
"He only would say at first that he wanted to speak to the president," the chief said.
Four officers crept up one of the walled pathways behind him. The man briefly turned and saw them as they crouched behind a wall. After he turned back to the building, they came over the wall. Two tackled him and dragged him away. A medic tended to what Gainer said were superficial injuries the man suffered when he was knocked down.
"He said that if we wanted to know what was in the suitcase, we would have to open it ourselves," Gainer said.
Some of the most powerful officials in Congress have offices on the west side of the Capitol, among them House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.