Washington, DC – A GOP U.S. senator from Tennessee is on the hot seat after she used her Congressional credentials to get out of traffic stop on Thursday.
The incident occurred on March 25 after the Senate session ran longer than usual and didn’t finish up for the weekend until after 3 p.m., CNN reported.
The U.S. Senate usually wraps up votes by 1:45 p.m. on Thursdays so that legislators can catch flights and trains home for the weekend.
But last week found senators dashing from the Senate chamber to catch mid-afternoon flights out of Reagan Washington National Airport, CNN reported.
“Make a hole!” U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) called out as he made his way through a crowd of people blocking the double doors out of the chamber.
Blackburn was one of those who was in a rush to catch a flight, and she dashed to a waiting car with an aide and jumped in, CNN reported.
The car took off down Constitution Avenue and got stopped shortly thereafter by a U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) vehicle.
Sources told CNN that Blackburn jumped out of her car, identified herself as a U.S. Senator, and showed the officer her Congressional pin.
Then the officer let the car go and Blackburn was whisked away.
Capitol Police told CNN they had no record of the traffic stop.
“There’s no record of USCP making a stop at the location on the day listed,” police department spokesperson said.
But Blackburn’s office has confirmed the senator was stopped and said the police asked her for her identification.
Her office said she was just a passenger in the vehicle, CNN reported.
Blackburn’s aide, Leo Kowalski, told his friends in a text shared with CNN that when they got pulled over, the senator “hopped out, flashed her pin, hopped back in the car [and] said ‘drive!'”
“Officer didn’t say a word, just shook his head,” Kowalski texted his friends.
Kowalski hasn’t replied to numerous requests for comment from CNN.
The source told CNN it was unclear whether the officer made the judgment call to release Blackburn or if he’d been instructed to do so by a supervisor.
A USCP source told CNN that Blackburn’s behavior wasn’t unusual for U.S. senators.
Legal ethicists said that using Congressional credentials to get out of a traffic ticket created the appearance of impropriety.
“Ethics applies to infractions large and small,” Norm Eisen, who served as special counsel to former President Barack Obama’s administration, told CNN. “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 continued. “That is not what that badge is for: to be treated differently than any other American motorist.”
But the Constitution’s speech or debate clause gives federal legislators a free pass from arrest as they travel to and from House and Senate sessions.
“I don’t see it as a major offense against the rules,” longtime ethics attorney Stan Brand said about what the Tennessee senator did when her car was stopped. “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.”