Ricin scare forces temporary lockdown for Lee, Hatch
Washington • Ricin-laced letters sent to Washington politicians rocked the nation's capital on Wednesday forcing evacuations and lockdowns and brought back haunting memories of the anthrax attacks that forced Sen. Orrin Hatch out of his office suite in 2001.
None of Utah's members of Congress appear to be targeted by the poisoned letters, though authorities confirmed the deadly toxin ricin was found in letters to Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and President Barack Obama that set up a wary mood on Capitol Hill.
Hatch's staff was told to shelter in place for about one hour Wednesday and visitors or others passing in the adjacent hallway were pushed into the Utah Republican's Hart Office Building suite while the Capitol Police investigated a suspicious package.
"Usually these events don't ever amount to anything but you never know," Hatch said later Wednesday after an all-clear announcement meant staffers could resume their normal duties.
Besides the short lockdowns, no operations were changed in any of the Utah offices, they reported. But standard precautions such as refusing to accept sealed envelopes delivered in person continued.
"I just keep plodding ahead no matter what happens," Hatch said. "If you allow things to scare you to death, you've got to get out of this business."
Sen. Mike Lee's office was also shuttered at one point Wednesday as police probed concerns about sealed letters being handed off across the Capitol complex.
"It's kinda scary," Lee said, noting it "conjures the memory" of the 2001 Anthrax scare, though he wasn't in Washington to experience that.
Lee said his staff has received reminders of how to spot and handle questionable letters and packages and he doesn't know when the mail will resume. Lee said it heightens a sense of security in a place already dominated by numerous security procedures.
Hatch's office was evacuated for 87 days in 2001 after anthrax spores were sent to then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who was in the same office building as Hatch.
The Utah senator and his staff, as well as then-Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, were asked to take antibiotics just in case they had been exposed.
Matt Canham contributed to this report.