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The 48-hour whirlwind of mild panic on Capitol Hill subsided Thursday, but not before taking a turn for the absurd when the suspect arrested in connection with mailing ricin-laced envelopes to President Barack Obama and Sen. Roger Wicker was revealed to have been an Elvis impersonator that the Mississippi Republican had employed years before.
Even as lawmakers and law enforcement officials took a collective deep breath, there was a lot to process.
The backstory of the suspect in custody, 45-year-old Paul Kevin Curtis of Corinth, Miss., revealed a colorful character of questionable psychological stability. Adding an almost unbelievable bent to the story was the news that Wicker and his wife had hired Curtis as an Elvis impersonator for an event years ago.
“My impression is that since that time, he’s had mental issues and perhaps is not as stable as he was back then,” Wicker mused.
In fact, court documents show that Curtis’ ex-wife reported to a local police department in 2007 that he was “extremely delusional, anti-government, and felt the government was spying on him with drones.”
New evidence and information tamped down speculation that the ricin letters had any connection with the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon; court records show that the envelopes were postmarked April 8. Also, none of the suspicious letters received by the state offices of Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., tested positive for hazardous materials, both lawmakers confirmed, even though they appeared to fit the description of the envelope received by Wicker.
There was still some confusion Thursday, as some media outlets sought to advance the story with reports that the substance in Wicker’s letter had only just been officially verified as poisonous. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer stressed to CQ Roll Call that tests by Capitol Police and by a private laboratory confirmed by Tuesday that the material in the letter was indeed deadly ricin.
“We did our field test, we did our lab test, it was ricin,” he said. “It was a deadly version. It may not have been weaponized, it may not have been a lot of it ... but it will kill you.”
The FBI on Thursday confirmed the presence of ricin.
It’s been somewhat of a challenge for Gainer, the notoriously loquacious chief law enforcement officer for the chamber, to keep people informed of unsettling events while also trying to reinforce a sense of reality.