Washington, D.C. — Dayton says he will close his office on Capitol Hill at least until after the Nov. 2 election. The Minnesota Democrat says his decision is based on a top-secret intelligence report on national security that he received from Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist a couple of weeks ago. He said during a conference call with reporters that he can't, by law, discuss the report's contents. However, he said he couldn't leave his staff exposed to risks.
"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 visit my office in the next few weeks," Dayton said. "I feel compelled to do so, because I will not be here in Washington to share in what I consider to be an unacceptably greater risk to their safety."
Dayton says he waited until now to close the office because he's been in D.C. since he received the report.
"Particularly since I'm not going to be here in Washington to share that risk, I think it's immoral for me to leave them behind, knowing what I know and not being here with them," said Dayton.
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 visit my office in the next few weeks.
Dayton says he's asked Majority Leader Frist to call a meeting of all senators to discuss the situation, but Frist has not done so.
Capitol police say there have been no specific threats against the Capitol complex. They did enhance security at the Capitol in August, following warnings from the Office of Homeland Security that Washington, D.C. might be targeted.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, DFL-Minn., said in a statement that she and her staff rely on the sound professional judgment of Capitol police to keep them safe. She says her office will remain open. Republican Sen. Norm Coleman's chief of staff, Eric Mische, said Coleman has no plans to close his office.
"If we had any information that led us to believe that there was any imminent danger to our staff, we would take immediate action," Mische said. "I can tell you from our perspective there is no information that has been received by us that suggests that we ought to close down our offices, and cave in to terrorists and potential acts of terrorism."
Mische says terrorists have made it clear they want to inflict damage on the U.S. and its democratic process some time before the election. But he says Coleman believes that shutting down government offices sends the wrong message. He says Coleman will be in Washington several times before the election, serving on the intelligence reform conference committee.
Dayton acknowledged that his actions might be going too far.
"None of us can predict the future. I hope and pray that the precautions I have taken will prove unnecessary. If so, I will accept the inevitable judgments made with perfect hindsight," said Dayton. "However, the consequences of my taking this action and being wrong pale in comparison with the consequences of not taking this action and being wrong."
Dayton says he would not advise Minnesotans to come to Capitol Hill, and he would not bring his two sons to Capitol Hill before the election. He says for now, his staff will work out of his Minnesota office, or in other Senate office space away from Capitol Hill.