Webb Is Vague About Gun Incident
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
U.S. Sen. James Webb expressed support yesterday for a top aide caught with a handgun in a Senate office building but shed little light on his role in what he described as an "unfortunate" situation.
Webb (D-Va.) declined to confirm what the aide, Phillip Thompson, told authorities after he was taken into custody on Monday: that the gun belongs to the senator and that he was "safekeeping" it for him. Webb said that a mix-up was to blame for the episode but that he could not provide details because Thompson faces criminal charges.
"I think this is one of those very unfortunate situations where, completely inadvertently, he took the weapon into the Senate yesterday," Webb said. Beyond that, Webb provided little information, never saying whether the gun is his.
"I have never carried a gun in the Capitol complex, and I did not give the weapon to Phillip Thompson, and that's all that I think I'll say," Webb said during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol.
The statements were Webb's first public comment on the matter. They came as Thompson, a longtime friend of Webb's and fellow former Marine, was locked up just blocks away, awaiting an appearance later in the day in D.C. Superior Court.
U.S. Capitol Police arrested Thompson, 45, about 10:30 a.m. Monday, soon after the handgun and extra ammunition were found in a briefcase he was trying to take into the Russell Senate Office Building. He spent a night in jail because weapons charges were not filed until after a cutoff time for same-day court appearances.
Yesterday, Thompson was listed as Lockup No. 1 on a court list of people awaiting hearings. He was on a calendar with a couple of other people facing gun charges, and others accused of panhandling, assault, possession of crack cocaine and other offenses.
Thompson, the senator's executive assistant, is charged with carrying a pistol without a license and possessing an unregistered firearm and unregistered ammunition. He stood in court with his attorney, Richard E. Gardiner, wearing the white shirt, gray-checked suit and black shoes that he apparently had on when he was arrested.
Gardiner, a Fairfax lawyer, was apparently unfamiliar with Superior Court practices and entered a not guilty plea on Thompson's behalf. In D.C. felony cases, a plea is not entered until a defendant is indicted.
Magistrate Judge Richard H. Ringell agreed to release Thompson on personal recognizance, pending a preliminary hearing May 1. Tailed by a swarm of reporters and photographers as he left the courthouse, Thompson offered no comments.
According to charging papers, Thompson called the incident a mistake and said he had been "safekeeping" the gun and ammunition for Webb. Thompson said he had inadvertently left the items in a briefcase he was carrying for Webb, the papers stated.
During his news conference, the few details Webb offered contradicted an account provided Monday by a Senate official familiar with the case. That official said Webb had given the gun to Thompson during a trip to the airport earlier in the day.