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October 12, 2004
Minnesota Senator Meltdown?

The bizarre behavior of the senior Senator from Minnesota continues and deepens this afternoon, as CBS News reports that Mark Dayton has closed his office for security reasons. CBS also reports that government sources are baffled by his reasoning, as no specific intelligence exists which would lead them to believe he's been targeted (hat tip: CQ reader Laura):

Sen. Mark Dayton said Tuesday he is closing his Washington office because of a classified intelligence report that made him fear for the safety of his staff.

Dayton, D-Minn., said the office will be closed while Congress is in recess through Election Day, with his staff working out of his Minnesota office and in Senate space off Capitol Hill.

"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 be visiting my Senate office in the next three weeks," he said on a call with reporters.

No one would blame Dayton for erring on the side of caution if specific intelligence pointed him out as a terrorist target. However, the DHS told CBS's Bob Orr that they have no information on any specific AQ targets, and Capitol police says no specific threats exist on the Capitol complex as a whole. Dayton claims that such specific threats have been revealed to him, and he blames Bill Frist for blocking a Senate investigation into the threat:

Asked what advise he would have for Minnesotans who want to travel to Washington over the next few weeks, Dayton said, "I wouldn't advise them to come to Capitol Hill. I would not bring my two sons to the capitol between now and the election."

Dayton issued a written statement that complained of inaction by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

"On three occasions, I have spoken personally with the majority leader and asked him to convene a meeting of all Senators to discuss this situation. I am dismayed, and perplexed, by his unwillingness to meet with us further about the information, which he initially brought to our attention. In the absence of that further discussion, I have made my own decision about my office, as is my responsibility," Dayton said.

Dayton's behavior has raised eyebrows ever since he attempted to instruct Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers on how to conduct military operations during a Senate hearing on Abu Ghraib. Shutting his offices down in DC in the face of what appear to be non-existent threats demonstrate either hysteria, paranoia, or a pathological need for attention -- none of which gives Minnesotans any confidence in Dayton's leadership. At a moment in our history where we need our leaders to be resolute, Dayton instead surrenders without a shot being fired.

One could conclude that the Senator simply has no backbone. I don't think that Senator Dayton necessarily lacks courage; I think he may be ill. Telling the world that evacuation of our nation's capitol is the only rational response while the Senate is out of session -- an odd time to target DC anyway -- and running for the hills when all law-enforcement and intelligence services say nothing unusual is happening almost sounds like a terror-war equivalent of shell shock. I think Frist may need to have that meeting with Mark Dayton to find out whether Dayton is capable of continuing his term, or whether Minnesotans need to recall him for his own safety.

Addendum: More here from our local Pioneer Press:

Dayton acted after reading a classified memo that was available to all U.S. senators, but said he couldn't discuss its contents. Nevertheless, few _ if any _ other Senate or House lawmakers followed suit, and many were startled by Dayton's actions.

The Washington offices of U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., remains open.

A senior FBI official said that while the bureau remains concerned about an attack before the November election, there is no new information pointing to a time or place. There is also no specific information pointing to an attack on Capitol Hill, the FBI official said.

If no one else who read the report closes their offices as a result, one has to ask why Dayton feels the need to bug out. I suppose it could be a political stunt to assist John Kerry in making the case that the country is no safer under George Bush's administration, but that seems like a huge reach with a lot of opportunity for unpleasant blowback. Besides, it would ascribe an intelligence to Dayton -- Machiavellian, surely, but still intelligence -- that simply has never been demonstrated in the past.

I'll continue to follow this as it develops ...

UPDATE: Republicans show why people like Dayton can never be trusted with national security issues:

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Virginia Republican John Warner, said in a statement that nothing in recent intelligence briefings would prompt him to close his office.

"Even when the Senate is out of session, we have a job to do," Warner said. "We can't let non-imminent threats prevent us from doing our work."

Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., is not closing his office. His chief of staff, Erich Mische, said Coleman was concerned about "sending the message to terrorists that you're fleeing the city. You can't let them feel as though they scared you out of your own government."

Perhaps Dayton meant that he was leaving DC to prepare for a summit ...

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 12, 2004 4:04 PM

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