WASHINGTON — A suspicious letter was found Thursday in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, but police said an initial test on a powdery substance in the envelope was negative.
The package contained a "threatening note and powdery substance," said Lt. Dan Nichols, a spokesman for the Capitol Police.
He said police were analyzing the substance.
A second police official, who did not give his name, said the initial test was negative.
The letter had been irradiated as part of a program to kill any anthrax spores, as is all mail entering the Capitol since Oct. 17, a government official said.
Even so, the letter instantly raised concern, since Daschle was the recipient of an anthrax-tainted letter in October that exposed more than two dozen people to spores and led to the closure of the Hart Senate Office Building.
This time, the letter was opened in the Capitol itself, somewhere in Daschle's second-floor suite. Ranit Schmelzer, Daschle's spokeswoman, said the South Dakotan was not present in the room where the letter was opened.
As a precaution, police cordoned off an area around Daschle's office, as well as the area immediately above on the Capitol's third floor.
The development was also a reminder of how little has been learned about the culprits behind the anthrax attacks that shook the nation last fall in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
All told, officials have confirmed 18 cases of anthrax in Washington and elsewhere since October — 11 inhalation and seven of the less serious skin form. Five people have died.
Two anthrax-tainted letters have been discovered in the congressional mail system: the one opened in Daschle office in October and a second one addressed to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
The two contained anthrax and identical handwriting.
Those letters said in part, "09-11-01 You can not stop us. We have this anthrax." They concluded: "Allah is great."
The Leahy letter was found by government investigators Nov. 16 among mail quarantined after the discovery of the first Daschle letter.
The anthrax in that letter was refined to such a high degree that it "literally jumped off the slide," investigators said, as they tried to examine in under a microscope.