White House dodging
Administration charged with withholding info about Cipro incident
Posted: January 11, 2003
1:00 a.m. Eastern
A public-interest law firm says the White House has ignored its request for answers regarding the administration's decision to place White House staff on an anti-anthrax medication the same day as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, while workers at a local postal facility were "denied treatment."
Washington, D.C.-based Judicial Watch accused the administration yesterday of stonewalling the group's Freedom of Information Act request for information regarding the White House's decision to put its staff on the powerful antibiotic Cipro the day of the attacks.
"By contrast," Judicial Watch said in a statement, "U.S. Postal Service workers from Washington, D.C.'s Brentwood Postal Facility – Judicial Watch clients – were denied antibiotic treatment, even after it became apparent that the Brentwood facility had been contaminated" with anthrax spores. A pair of letters containing the spores passed through the facility on their way to Capitol Hill.
Two Brentwood postal workers – Joseph P. Curseen, 47, and Thomas L. Morris Jr., 55 – died of inhalation anthrax. The facility recently was renamed in their honor, the Washington Post reported.
The legal watchdog group has accused the administration of protecting itself while denying treatment to the Brentwood postal workers.
"The Bush administration has an established reputation for secrecy and obfuscation when it comes to answering straightforward questions that are clearly in the interest of the American people," said Larry Klayman, the legal group's chairman and general counsel. "Unfortunately, the Bush administration is incredibly even less transparent and accountable than the criminal enterprise the Clintons ran out of the White House during their regime.
"There's a disturbing trend of denying the American public access to information that keeps politicians accountable," he said, adding: "We will not stand for it."
White House officials said Oct. 24, 2001, that local and federal health officials made the Cipro recommendations.
"… The action that has been recommended by local health officials, as well as the Centers for Disease Control, is that Cipro should not be given to anybody unless there is some type of reasonable evidence that they have been in the proximity of something that could have contained anthrax," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
"The determination of the health community is, wherever somebody may have been exposed to anthrax, they will prescribe Cipro as a prophylactic treatment. It is not recommended by the health professionals for anybody [that has] not possibly been exposed," he said.
Officials said about 50 people who worked at a mailroom on the White House grounds received Cipro.
"Despite multiple press reports confirming that White House staff began use of Cipro on Sept. 11, 2001, the incomplete and evasive FOIA response from the White House consisted of a paltry four e-mail messages and an 'administrative alert' concerning testing procedures in reaction to the anthrax deaths of two postal workers, all of which were dated Oct. 23 and Oct. 24, 2001," Judicial Watch said in its statement.
The legal group said it "has appealed the FOIA response and will take strong legal action to uncover the truth despite the obstructionist tactics of the administration."
A total of eight postal workers died from anthrax exposure around the country "and hundreds remain harmed by the lethal exposure," Judicial Watch said.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported Tuesday that Washington postal worker Leroy Richmond, 58, filed suit against Postmaster General John E. Potter and two other postal managers, alleging they endangered his life by failing to close the Brentwood facility rapidly after anthrax was discovered.
The suit also alleges Potter and his managers acted with "deliberate indifference" to Richmond's safety by failing to close the postal plant. It says postal officials kept the Brentwood Road plant open for several days after an aide to Sen. Thomas A. Daschle, D-S.D., opened an anthrax-laced letter Oct. 15.
Another was sent to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., but his was found in a barrel of quarantined mail and was opened at a military laboratory.
An attorney for Richmond, Greg Lattimer, said Richmond was informed Oct. 19 he had contracted an inhalation form of anthrax, but postal officials kept the facility open. It was finally shuttered Oct. 21.
"This is about finding some justice and closure in this case," Richmond, whose battle with anthrax was considered life-threatening, said at a news conference. The suit seeks $100 million in damages.
CNN reported Dec. 21, 2001, that the anthrax contamination at Brentwood was worse than first thought.
"The contamination was even more widespread than had initially been thought to be the case," commented Dr. Rosemary Sokas, associate director of science at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Anthrax spores spread further into the building than first suspected, she said, noting that the "intensity" of the contamination was also worse.
In another development, ABC News reported in November that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was seeking large amounts of Cipro. The following month, at the urging of the U.S. and Britain, the United Nations Security Council voted 13-0 to add high doses of Cipro to the list of goods Baghdad cannot import without U.N. approval.
Jon E. Dougherty is a staff reporter and columnist for WorldNetDaily.
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