Thursday, November 20, 2008

Md. lawmakers consider anthrax investigation commission

By Sara Michael
Baltimore Examiner 11/21/08

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings’ Washington, D.C., office was shuttered in 2001 after anthrax spores were found, so he’s “very sensitive” to the investigation into the crime, he said.

Now, Cummings said he supports a review of the investigation. U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., proposed legislation in September to create a congressional commission to investigate the attacks and the federal government’s response.

“Whatever we have to do to get to the bottom of this anthrax issue, we need to do it,” Cummings said.

Holt’s bipartisan commission would mirror the 9/11 commission and make recommendations on how to prevent such attacks and respond to future bioterrorism threats.

Holt also has questioned the response.

The tainted letters were mailed from his district.

“Myriad questions remain about the anthrax attacks and the government’s bungled response to the attacks,” Holt said in a statement.

The FBI named Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist at Fort Detrick in Frederick, the sole perpetrator of the 2001 attacks.

Ivins died of an apparent overdose in July.

But lawmakers and scientists alike have raised doubts about the FBI’s conclusion.

Cummings said he “didn’t know” if he agreed with FBI’s conclusion.

“I wonder about that. That’s all I can say,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., also has raised concerns about the FBI’s handling of the case and questioned FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III at a hearing in September.

Cardin was still reviewing Holt’s legislation this week and could not comment yet on whether he supports it, said spokeswoman Sue Walitsky.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., who represents Frederick, also has expressed skepticism, saying recently that the law enforcement activities resulted in Ivins’ suicide and “damaged morale” among Fort Detrick employees.

“Congressman Bartlett has not been persuaded by the FBI’s evidence presented to date,” said spokeswoman Lisa Wright.

Bartlett also has shown interest in Holt’s measure, but wasn’t sure Holt will reintroduce it in the next session, Wright said.

Holt’s spokesman Zach Goldberg said Holt does plan to reintroduce the measure.

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