WASHINGTON – Sen. Mark Dayton (search) on Wednesday defended his much-maligned decision to close his Washington office until Election Day, saying several pieces of intelligence led him to believe the Capitol was at risk of an attack.
Dayton, D-Minn., said he made his decision based on a top-secret intelligence report presented by Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., coupled with the Sept. 11 commission's (search) conclusion that one of the planes hijacked Sept. 11, 2001, was heading for the Capitol.
"We know that Al Qaeda (search) has a history of going back to targets it was unsuccessful in destroying," Dayton said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening. Law enforcement agencies have said there is no new intelligence indicating the Capitol is a target.
Dayton also said Senate Sergeant at Arms Bill Pickle (search) called the intelligence report, which was presented two weeks ago, the most "declarative statement" in his career.
Pickle could not be reached for comment Wednesday night, but in an earlier interview, he said the original briefing never mentioned the Capitol.
"However, it (the briefing) was somber in the sense that we are vulnerable to someone creating mischief here," Pickle said. "That report, along with other information that only a senator is privy to, caused Senator Dayton to exercise what I call an abundance of caution. ... I understand his reasoning."
Wednesday morning, Pickle called a meeting of Senate staffers to alleviate concerns raised by Dayton's comments.
At that meeting, Dayton's chief of staff, Jack Danielson, said he apologized to staffers for the "surprise and fear the announcement caused yesterday," adding he was not apologizing for Dayton's decision.
Later Wednesday, Pickle sent a memo to Senate staffers reiterating there were "no known specific threats directed at the United States Capitol or members of Congress."