Fleischer added, "That's when it is hardest, when you just don't know what the answers are and all you can say is we are looking into it."
That was what Carney faced Wednesday as he found himself repeating, "I would point you to the statement that the FBI put out" and "I would remind you that these investigations "¦ are just under way." Pressed to offer reassurance to a public that "is already pretty nervous," Carney offered that reassurance in the form of emphasis on the "long-established procedures and protocols" for handling suspicious mail.
Unlike the anthrax mailings, there may be swift justice in the case of the tainted envelopes that arrived in Washington this week, destined for the White House and the office of Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
A Mississippi man, Kenneth Curtis of Tupelo, was arrested Wednesday as a suspect in the mailings of both letters. Both letters carried an identical closing statement, according to an FBI bulletin obtained by NBC News. Both also were postmarked April 8, 2013, out of Memphis, Tenn., and included the phrase, "to see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance." In addition, both letters are signed: "I am KC and I approve this message."
Adding to the emotions and the tensions Wednesday, a man was arrested on the Capitol grounds when police learned he was carrying a loaded handgun, according to CNN. He was there in protest of the Senate's consideration of tougher gun-control measures.
Though a frequent critic of President Obama's White House, Fleischer has praised the response to Boston. "I think they're handling it well," he said. "The administration has been handling it with caution, with as steady a hand as is possible in the situation. They are not leaning too far forward, trying to publicize too much. That would be a mistake."
Fleischer said that Carney has no choice but to be cautious. "It will frustrate the press no end. They are doing their job trying to press for answers, and the press secretary has got to be cautious," he said. But he said it is too early to assess the ricin letters. "It is too soon now. They are just on their heels dealing with everything they have to deal with and I feel for them."
Most of those procedures and protocols cited by Carney were established after the anthrax attacks of 2001.
"Our home mail got cut off and it was diverted to the White House mail room," said Fleischer, recalling that he did not receive his home mail until about a year later and that it was "very crispy" after being irradiated. Additionally, all mail for the White House and the Congress are now received at installations far from the White House and far from Capitol Hill.
More seriously, Fleischer said the mood inside the White House is likely to be somber. He recalled the mood in the Bush White House when, only days after the Sept. 11 attacks, a man in Florida died from contact with anthrax in a letter he received.