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POLITICS: White House

Feds arrest suspect in ricin-laced letters sent to Obama, senator

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Photo - WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 4:  Hazardous materials technicians put on protective gear and mark a 55-gallon drum as they prepare to enter the Russell Senate Office building on Capitol Hill February 4, 2004 in Washington, D.C. All three Senate office buildings are closed due to Ricin-contaminated mail found in the Dirksen Senate building February 2. Ricin is a toxin derived from the castor bean, and can be deadly. Early symptoms include fever, stomach ache and vomiting. Multiple organ failure resulting in death can occur within 36 to 72 hours. There is no antidote.  (Photo by Mannie Garcia/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 4: Hazardous materials technicians put on protective gear and mark a 55-gallon drum as they prepare to enter the Russell Senate Office building on Capitol Hill February 4, 2004 in Washington, D.C. All three Senate office buildings are closed due to Ricin-contaminated mail found in the Dirksen Senate building February 2. Ricin is a toxin derived from the castor bean, and can be deadly. Early symptoms include fever, stomach ache and vomiting. Multiple organ failure resulting in death can occur within 36 to 72 hours. There is no antidote. (Photo by Mannie Garcia/Getty Images)
Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Politics Digest

A Mississippi man was arrested Wednesday in connection to poisonous letters sent to President Obama and a Republican lawmaker, incidents that put the nation's capital further on edge at a time when federal authorities are struggling to solve a deadly bombing at the Boston Marathon.

Paul Kevin Curtis was arrested at his home in Corinth, Miss., for allegedly sending letters to Obama and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss, a federal law enforcement official told The Washington Examiner. Senators briefed on the event said the suspect was somebody who had routinely "harassed" Wicker.

Earlier Wednesday, the FBI said the letters sent to Obama and Wicker had tested positive for ricin, which is used to make castor oil but is also highly toxic. Both letters were intercepted at off-site screening facilities and never reached the White House or Capitol, officials said.

While authorities were testing those letters, police were called to investigate suspicious envelopes delivered to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Richard Shelby. R-Ala. Authorities closed down portions of two Senate office buildings but ultimately determined the parcels presented no threat.

"Threats like these are part of the job," an aide in one of the offices told The Examiner. "But yeah, there's a sense of, 'What's next?' "

White House press secretary Jay Carney said there was no evidence of any connection between the letters and the Boston bombings. In fact, postmarks show that the letters sent to Obama and Wicker were mailed more than a week ago.

A federal law enforcement official familiar with the investigation confirmed to The Examiner that both letters sent to Obama and Wicker originated in Memphis, Tenn., and contained the same phrase: "To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance."

The letters are signed, "I am KC and I approve this message," the official said.

The suspicious packages were not limited to offices in Washington. Lawmakers from Arizona, Texas and Michigan all reported receiving suspicious letters at their congressional offices back in their districts.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said an aide noticed a suspicious letter in his Saginaw office, and authorities said they were investigating similar letters sent to the Phoenix office of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Later Wednesday, a spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said a suspicious letter turned up at his office in Farmers Branch.

Amid the chaos in Washington, media reports indicated that authorities had arrested a suspect in connection with the Boston bombings -- but those initial reports were quickly shot down by the Justice Department.

For some, this week's events revived memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and, just a week later, the mailing of deadly anthrax spores to several media organizations and two Democratic U.S. senators. Five people were killed by the anthrax and 17 others were infected.

Others said the D.C. incidents proved the effectiveness of the safeguards put in place after 9/11.

Linda Sanchez, a tourist from Phoenix, was snapping pictures of the White House from behind the yellow tape police stretched across Pennsylvania Avenue immediately after the Boston bombings. Washington, she said, feels like it's on high alert.

"It's a bit strange," Sanchez said of her first trip to D.C. "We're not going to let recent events stop us from having fun. But it's obviously pretty tense around here. Hopefully, it doesn't stay that way for too much longer."

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner