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Threatening letter, white substance sent to Iowa lawmaker

James Q. Lynch, CR Gazette –

DES MOINES – The Iowa house came to a standstill this afternoon when a clerk for Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, opened a letter that contained a white powder.

The House was debating a ban on traffic enforcement cameras when Abdul-Samad’s clerk, Michael Dekota McRae, opened the letter and white powder spilled out on his hands and clothing.

An Iowa State Patrol trooper, who gathered the powder off the hands of Abdul-Samad and McRae, said the powder smelled like laundry detergent.

However, McRae said the letter also contained threatening language.

“So it has been sealed up,” said Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha.

State troopers who provide security at the Capitol have requested that visitors remain in the building until further notice.

A postal inspector has been called to conduct a field test on the powder to determine whether it was toxic. Officials recommended House members and their staffs remain in the chamber so they didn’t spread any potentially dangerous material, Paulsen said.

Rather than have Abdul-Samad and McRae return the House chamber, they were sequestered in a closed vestibule between the rotunda and the chamber.

Although the nature of the supposedly threatening letter is unknown, lawmakers have been subject to threats in the past. In 2001, three Democratic senators, Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, Staci Appel of Ackworth and Matt McCoy of Des Moines, received death threats.

In 2009, McCoy, an openly gay member of the Legislature, was the target of threats in the wake of the Iowa Supreme Court ruling striking down the ban on same-sex marriages, according to state patrol officers who provide security at the Capitol.

An investigation is ongoing.

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