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Gov. Dayton Recalls 9/11 Attack On DC, Closing Office

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(credit: CBS) Pat Kessler
Pat Kessler knows Minnesota politics. He's been on the beat long...
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ST. PAUL (WCCO) — Gov. Mark Dayton, a former U.S. Senator who was in Washington D.C. on 9/11, told WCCO-TV about that day 10 years ago in a wide-ranging and candid interview.

Dayton was in the second year of his freshman term as a senator when the attack happened. He said it was a day that changed the course of his personal life, and his political career.

Dayton witnessed the attacks in his office with his staff that morning.

“A loud speaker came on and said, ‘Evacuate! Evacuate!’” said Dayton.

Later, Dayton said he made his way to his hotel’s 12th floor rooftop and heard nothing, which is rare for the city. But he did see the Pentagon burning.

“Nothing happening,” he said. “The Reagan airport, where planes come in and out, everything grounded. Helicopters, usually flying up and down the mall, nothing was moving. Total silence, except for this big black mushroom cloud that was pouring from the Pentagon.”

Fearing another attack, House and Senate leaders strongly urged members of Congress to leave, but many did not. About 50, including Dayton, returned to the Capitol steps.

“Someone spontaneously began singing ‘God Bless America.’ I still get shivers down my spine when I hear that song,” said Dayton.

Despite that unifying moment, Dayton became increasingly skeptical in the years following the attack. He voted against the Iraq War and was highly critical of President George W. Bush.

Later, in October 2004, Dayton became a target of national derision when he closed his U.S. Senate office after a terrorist threat, which he said was an urgent warning of an imminent strike.

“I thought to myself: would I want my two sons to be in Washington during that time? No,” he said.

To this day, Dayton does not regret closing his office, but does admit he failed to fully explain it.

Dayton, who decided not to run for the Senate again, continue to follow the 9/11 investigation closely. He’s critical of those who do not believe the U.S. government version of events on 9/11, including former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura.

“They’re wrong,” he said.

Ventura was Minnesota’s governor on 9/11 and led the state’s official memorial service on the state Capitol mall.

Dayton describes 9/11 conspiracy believers, including Ventura, as paranoid.

“He believed at the time he was a top terrorist threat — a target of Osama bin Laden. Unless Osama bin Laden subscribed to the World Wrestling Federation magazine, I don’t think he was on his radar screen,” said Dayton.

Ventura declined to attend Minnesota’s 9/11 Memorial ceremony, which will take place on the State Capitol lawn Sunday. He also did not respond to a request for comment.

As far as Minnesota’s safety, Dayton said the state is vigilant, but well-protected against the threat of any future terrorist attack.

For more information on 9/11 events in Minnesota, click here.

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