Recently, as senators were finishing up last minute business before a Senate recess, many could be seen rushing about in quite a hurry – Particularly Marsha Blackburn.
After the week’s final vote, senators hurried out the chamber, many eager to catch afternoon flights or make their travel plans. Blackburn, however, ran out and jumped into a waiting car, along with her aide, where they made their way down Constitution Avenue. Moments later, Blackburn’s car was pulled over by US Capitol Police.
According to a text message and a source familiar with the incident, Blackburn then jumped out of the car where she began flashing her congressional pin and identifying herself as a senator. Ultimately, the officer let the car go. Despite the fact that the senator’s office later confirmed the incident, the Capitol Police says it has absolutely no record. According to her office, Blackburn was a passenger in the vehicle.
CNN reported the incident citiing text messages from one of Blackburn’s aides along with two other sources who were privy to the situation. account of the incident is based on a text message from one of her aides and two other sources who have been told about the matter.
Leo Kowalski is an aide to Blackburn and in an account to his friends he said the car was pulled over and that the senator “hopped out, flashed her pin, hopped back in the car [and] said ‘drive!'”
He said, “Officer didn’t say a word, just shook his head.”
Another person close to the matter said that when Blackburn identified herself as a senator, she was allowed to leave without incident.
Legal experts agree that while minor traffic violations are completely common for most Americans, the real issue is a senator using his or her position of office to get off the hook. They say this type of use of power could go against Senate ethics rules. At the very least, it comes across as inappropriate.
Norm Eisen served as special counsel to President Barack Obama and as special assistant for ethics and government reform and he said, “Ethics applies to infractions large and small. The whole idea of ethics is we are all the same. No one is above the law. That is one of the core principles. Here when you have a member flagrantly using of all things congressional insignia to get preferential treatment, that’s improper.”
Eisen noted: “That is not what that badge is for: to be treated differently than any other American motorist.”
A spokesperson for Blackburn said in a statement: “While en-route to the airport to fly to Memphis for constituent meetings, Sen. Blackburn’s driver was pulled over,” a Blackburn spokesperson said in a statement. “The police officer asked the Senator for identification, which she provided, and then proceeded to the airport.”
But why wouldn’t Capitol Police have a record of this? Or an explanation?
When asked for a comment, a spokesperson for US Capitol Police said there was no record of such an incident and then refused to comment any further
The spokesperson said, “There’s no record of USCP making a stop at the location on the day listed.”
An unnamed Capitol Police source noted that this is NOT unusual behavior for Senators.
In fact, the Capitol Police has come under fire for their preferential treatment of members of Congress.
When Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy crashed his car into a traffic barrier on Capitol Hill one early morning in 2006, Capitol Police did not give him a sobriety test. Kennedy said he was on sleeping medication at the time. .
Longtime ethics lawyer Stan Brand says of Blackburn’s behavior, “I don’t see it as a major offense against the rules. I think it’s more of an optical issue because it looks like legislators are throwing their weight around and acting like they’re privileged.”