D.C. Mayor Pans Terror-fied Sen.

Mark Dayton, US Senator from Minnesota, 1-16-03 AP

Washington Mayor Tony Williams is the latest official to question a Minnesota senator's reasons for closing his Capitol Hill office.

Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton closed his Washington office Tuesday because a top-secret intelligence report made him fear for his staff's safety. Federal law enforcement officials insisted there is no new intelligence indicating the Capitol complex is a target.

Williams said he's trying to figure out what frequency the senator is on. The mayor also noted that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Delegate Eleanor Holmes and others all say there's nothing new to prompt increased concern.

Williams said the region's law enforcement agencies are doing all they can to keep the region safe. Holmes said lawmakers have an obligation to avoid creating an atmosphere of fear.

Dayton said his office will be closed while Congress is in recess through Election Day, with his staff working out of his Minnesota office and in Senate space off Capitol Hill.

"I take this step out of extreme, but necessary, precaution to protect the lives and safety of my Senate staff and my Minnesota constituents, who might otherwise be visiting my Senate office in the next three weeks," said Dayton, whose office in the Russell Senate Office Building is across the street from the Capitol.

Dayton said he could not give details of the classified intelligence report, which he said Frist, a Tennessee Republican, presented to senators at a briefing two weeks ago.

Frist told reporters that he didn't know of any other senators who had closed their Capitol Hill offices.

"There has been no new information over the last five to six weeks," he said, referring to intelligence.

But a congressional official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Frist read a threat assessment aloud to senators at the briefing two weeks ago that has since been updated.

The official said the updated threat assessment by all 15 U.S. intelligence agencies was circulated to senators late last week was less alarmist.

Brian Roehrkasse, a Homeland Security Department spokesman, said the department had no intelligence indicating al Qaeda intends to target any specific U.S. locations.

FBI officials said while there still was concern al Qaeda wants to disrupt the upcoming election, there was no new information indicating the Capitol or any other location was a target.

Added Capitol police spokesman Michael Lauer: "There's been no specific threats against the Capitol complex. We continue to be on guard now, all the way up to the election and all the way through the inauguration."

Nonetheless, Dayton said he would advise people from his home state to avoid Capitol Hill until after the Nov. 2 election.

"I would not bring my two sons to the Capitol between now and the election," he added.

Some Republican senators suggested Dayton overreacted.

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Virginia Republican John Warner, said in a statement that nothing in recent intelligence briefings would prompt him to close his office.

"Even when the Senate is out of session, we have a job to do," Warner said. "We can't let non-imminent threats prevent us from doing our work."

Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican from Minnesota, is not closing his office. His chief of staff, Erich Mische, said Coleman was concerned about "sending the message to terrorists that you're fleeing the city. You can't let them feel as though they scared you out of your own government."
  • Dan Collins

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