In “Yellow alert and “Senator Dayton shirks his duty,” we set forth the basis for our view that Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton is dealing from something less than a full deck. Dayton’s latest acting out involves the evacuation of his Washington office in the face of “a heightened risk” of terrorism.
Today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune carries Dayton’s column explaining the rationale for the evacuation of his Washington office: “An extreme but necessary precaution.” Dayton writes:
The Senate has adjourned until after the upcoming election, and most senators, including myself, have left Washington. I have temporarily closed my Capitol Hill Senate office to protect the lives of my staff and Minnesotans who would visit that office.
I acted, based upon a top-secret Intelligence Report, dated Sept. 15, 2004, from the Counterterrorism Center in the Directorate of Central Intelligence. One officer of the Senate described the report as “the most declarative statement” from the national intelligence community that he had seen during his 30 years in intelligence and law enforcement.
I was informed of the report three weeks ago by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who took the unprecedented step of interrupting another top-secret briefing of senators by the Secretary of Defense.
Frist read portions of the intelligence document aloud and urged us to read its entirety on our own. In an adjoining secured room, I read the report in full, and I twice returned to read subsequent documents related to it. I discussed them with the Senate’s sergeant at arms and with other senators. We were told that each of us was responsible for the decisions regarding our offices, and I made mine.
My concern was not about my own safety. I accept whatever risks come with the job I was elected to do. Whenever the Senate has been in session, I have been in Washington and my office has been open. When the Senate returns to session after the election, I will be back at the Capitol.
For now, however, the Senate itself is closed. I considered it irresponsible and immoral for me to return to the relative safety of Minnesota and leave my Washington staff exposed to unacceptable risks, of which I was aware and they were not.
Some have said, from their own safety far away from Washington, that my action sends the wrong “message.” My staff are not “messages.” They are real people, named Jack, Chris, Laura, Demian and Delta. Most of them are young, and many are the sons, daughters, and grandchildren of Minnesotans. Their lives are precious, and they are my responsibility.
Leaders lead by their examples, and they lead from the front lines during times of danger, not from the rear. If senators had wanted to send a message to the nation or the world, the Senate should have remained open through the election. There is plenty of unfinished work, which is scheduled for completion in a postelection session. Instead, at the decision of the majority leader, the Senate closed the earliest in my four years there, and members left town, leaving their staffs behind.
No one can predict the future with certainty, and the intelligence report I read did not purport to do so. It did, however, identify a more likely period of time for a terrorist attack. Additionally, early this month CNN reported that Al-Qaida’s No. 2 operative issued a statement on an Islamic Web site urging attacks on U.S. and British interests. His similar statement preceded the bombing in Madrid, just before Spain’s election.
Other U.S. government officials have stated publicly that the intelligence did not explicitly name the Capitol or other sites. I do not dispute their accounts. However, the 9/11 commission determined that the hijackers of the fourth airplane on that terrible day intended to strike the Capitol, before they were heroically intercepted by Minnesota nativeThomas Burnett Jr. and other passengers. Al-Qaida has a history of returning to attack previous targets that have not been destroyed.
The Capitol’s vulnerability to another attack was evident on June 9 of this year. A private airplane without its identifying transponder entered Washington’s restricted airspace. Capitol police told people to take off their shoes and run for their lives, because the airplane was expected to strike the building within one minute.
At the time, I was meeting with four Minnesotans in my Senate office.
One woman was about seven months pregnant. Her husband and I helped her down the building’s steps and onto the street, where hundreds of people were running frantically. Fortunately, it was a false alarm.
It was a false alarm, but a very real warning. If it had been another enemy attack, the element of surprise would have defeated all the protection systems established after 9/11. When that occurs, it is too late to save many people’s lives.
Temporarily moving my office off Capitol Hill, while the Senate is not in session, is an extreme, but necessary, precaution to protect the lives of my staff and other Minnesotans. I hope and pray that my action proves to be unnecessary. However, the heightened risk surrounding the Capitol until the election is real, and it cannot be wished away. I could not face myself or the people for whom I am responsible, if I had not stood up to it.
“Stood up to it” is not the first phrase that comes to mind to describe Dayton’s response to “a heightened risk,” but the guy’s a politician in the Kerry vein. And Dayton is up for reelection in 2006. I trust that we won’t miss the opportunity to ensure Dayton’s safety by evacuating him from Washington on a permanent basis.
HINDROCKET adds: Cathy in the Wright is collecting appropriately inspirational quotes to commemorate Dayton’s courageous flight. Here are a couple of my favorites:
We shall flee from the beaches, we shall run from the landing grounds, we shall retreat from the fields and streets, we shall flee to the hills; we shall then surrender.
We few, we happy few, we band of runners.
He’s a joke, yes, but in Minnesota, that doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t be re-elected. Remember, Paul Wellstone served two terms.