Substances sent to congressional offices in Georgia identified as tea

Staff writer Steve Burns contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON — The district offices of several members of Georgia’s congressional delegation have received suspicious packages in recent days filled with what’s later been identified in two initial tests as tea.

The offices of at least six of the state’s 14 House members, both Democrats and Republicans, have received such mail over the past several days, spokespeople for the lawmakers confirmed. They include the offices of U.S. Reps. John Lewis, D-Atlanta; Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville; David Scott, D-Atlanta; and Lynn Westmoreland, R-Coweta County. The offices said they immediately notified the authorities.

Within the past week, the discovery of unmarked envelopes filled with an unidentified powder led to the temporary evacuation of several of those offices, including those of Democrat Hank Johnson in DeKalb County and Republican Buddy Carter in Savannah. Both offices were swept by hazardous materials crews and other authorities. The FBI later announced that, in initial tests, the substances in both the Johnson and Carter cases appeared to be tea.

“There was no threat associated with a letter nor a return address,” FBI spokesman Stephen Emmett said in two separate statements about the instances in the offices of Carter and Johnson.

Emmett said the substances were sent to the Georgia Department of Public Health for further testing.

Spokespeople for several other Georgia lawmakers, including those for U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, said they were not aware of their district offices receiving similar packages in recent days.

It’s still unclear who sent the packages and whether the instances are related. A Lewis spokeswoman said the postmark of the suspicious package sent to the congressman’s district office came from Lithia Springs, Ga., and included no return address.

The FBI said it is aware of a trend among “affiliates of a political or tax protest movement” mailing tea bags to congressional offices as a form of protest or messaging. Emmett clarified that it remains to be seen whether that was the case in the recent instances in Johnson’s and Carter’s offices.

Several similar instances occurred in 2009 at the urging of some conservative activist organizations, according to The Huffington Post. The offices of congressmen from California, Colorado and New Hampshire were targeted at the time.

As for this week’s events in Georgia, similar instances have not been reported in the Washington offices of the state’s lawmakers. Mail sent to the U.S. Capitol, however, is screened differently than that sent to district offices.

Outside mail sent to the U.S. Capitol is processed off-site before it’s delivered to various offices, a security measure implemented after the anthrax scares around the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. There are different protocols in place for district staffers opening up mail, including the use of specific safety equipment.