Ventura’s house, Capitol checked for anthrax

by Jessica Thompson

In response to growing reports of anthrax exposure, health officials inspected areas of the Minnesota State Capitol and Gov. Jesse Ventura’s residences Wednesday for the deadly bacteria.

Ventura’s spokesman John Wodele said the measures are precautionary and that Ventura is not being tested for exposure or taking antibiotics.

“There is no credible threat. There is no evidence that would lead us to believe that we might find something; it’s strictly precautionary,” Wodele said.

Health officials tested mail rooms and press bureaus around the Capitol as well as Ventura’s office, his official residence in St. Paul and his ranch in Maple Grove.

Meanwhile, health officials in Washington, D.C., began a five-day security sweep of House facilities due to escalating reports of anthrax exposure on Capitol Hill.

The sweep was prompted by reports that 31 people – most staffers for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. – were exposed to anthrax through a letter sent to his office.

Preliminary tests Wednesday also revealed anthrax in the Manhattan office of New York Gov. George Pataki, where Ventura visited during his trip to New York this month.

Paul McCabe, a Minneapolis FBI supervisory special agent, said agents in Minneapolis are on high alert but no anthrax cases have been reported in Minnesota.

“Naturally we’ve had phone calls – as have all the police departments – about suspicious letters and things like that, but we haven’t had any cases of actual anthrax or any threats,” McCabe said.

Dan Wolter, spokesman for the House Republican leaders, said revised mail-opening guidelines by the FBI and Department of Safety have been distributed to all staffers at the Minnesota Capitol.

“We’re refreshing (safety measures) for everybody just in case something suspicious comes up … we want to heighten awareness among staff,” Wolter said.

All mail to the Capitol goes to one central mail room before being distributed to legislators.

Legislative assistants open most mail, but Wolter said many legislators receive mail at their private residences and are being trained on how to handle suspicious letters.

Minnesota National Guard General Eugene Andreotti and the commissioners of Health and Public Safety authorized the inspection. Wodele said Ventura approved of the decision.

“The governor is concerned that everyone that works here be provided an environment that is reasonably secure,” Wodele said. “I think everyone that works in this building is a little bit anxious … but not afraid.”

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Jessica Thompson covers the State Capitol and welcomes comments at [email protected]