Blackburn then jumped out of the car, identified herself as a senator, and showed the agent her congressional pin, according to a text message and a source familiar with the matter. Then the officer let go of the car.
U.S. Capitol police say they have no record of the incident, but the senator’s office later confirmed the account and said police were asking for his identification. Her office said she was a passenger when the car stopped.
CNN’s account of the incident is based on a text message from one of its aides and two other sources who have been informed of the matter.
Leo Kowalski, a Blackburn aide, told his friends that after he was stopped, the senator “jumped, threw the pin and got back in the car. [and] he said “drive!”
“The officer didn’t say a word, shook his head,” the assistant said in a text message, which was reviewed by CNN.
A source familiar with the account told CNN that Blackburn identified himself as a senator and was allowed to leave. The source added that it is unclear whether the responding officer made that call or was directed to let it go by a superior.
While minor traffic violations are common for many Americans, legal experts say senators who use the power of their office to get off the hook to get a ticket could affect Senate rules, or at least create an appearance of incorrectness.
“Ethics applies to infractions large and small,” said Norm Eisen, who served as President Barack Obama’s special adviser and special assistant for government ethics and reform. “The whole idea of ethics is that we’re all equal. No one is above the law. That’s one of the basic principles. Here, when you have a member who fragrantly uses all the insignia of Congress to get preferential treatment , this is inappropriate “.
Eisen added, “That’s not what this badge is for: being treated differently than any other American motorist.”
Kowalski did not respond to several messages about the incident, nor did a spokesman until the publication of CNN’s story.
“While on his way to the airport to fly to Memphis for component meetings, Senator Blackburn’s driver was arrested,” a Blackburn spokesman said in a statement. “The police officer asked the senator for identification, which he provided, and then headed to the airport.”
Still, Capitol police said they had no records of the incident and would not explain why not.
A U.S. Capitol police spokesman said there was no record of the incident and declined to comment further.
“There is no evidence that the USCP stopped the location on the day indicated,” a spokesman said.
A Capitol Police source said Blackburn’s behavior is not unusual for senators.
Thursday turned out to be a hectic day for many senators competing to catch the afternoon flights before the spring break. Most Thursday, the Senate ends the last vote of the week around 1:45 pm ET, allowing senators to take mid-afternoon flights, usually outside Reagan Washington National Airport.
But this past Thursday, voting extended to later, with senators literally leaving the chamber around 3 p.m. (ET), after casting their final vote.
“Make a hole!” said Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who was leaving the chamber and trying to pass through a crowd that stood in front of the double doors on the second floor of the Senate.
The speech or debate clause in the Constitution immunizes legislators in the House and Senate to be arrested when they arrive and leave the session. But Stan Brand, a longtime ethics lawyer in Washington, says “it’s a live issue” about how far this clause goes to protect the conduct of lawmakers.
“I don’t see it as a major offense against the rules,” Brand said of Blackburn’s behavior. “I think it’s more of an optical issue because it looks like lawmakers are giving their weight and acting like they’re privileged.”
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