By Mary Ann Akers
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 13, 2009
Sen. David Vitter's reelection mission to rehabilitate his image in the wake of the D.C. madam scandal two years ago has hit a snag. The Louisiana Republican is now embroiled in a different kind of classic Washington brouhaha, this one involving a federal investigation of his alleged airport rage.
The Transportation Security Administration announced yesterday that it is reviewing a report that an angry Vitter set off an alarm at Dulles International Airport last week when he opened a security door to a jet bridge in his haste to make a United Airlines flight.
The TSA wouldn't comment beyond its statement that it is "reviewing the alleged incident." But airport security regulations stipulate that it is a Class 1 misdemeanor for an unauthorized person to enter a restricted area.
Airport police officers were called March 5 to deal with an "irate passenger" in the United terminal, but by the time officers arrived, the passenger was gone, according to Courtney Mickalonis, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Therefore, there is no police report of the incident, she said.
Vitter, in a statement, admitted that he "accidentally went through a wrong door at the gate." But he dismissed the original news report of the incident as appearing in a "silly gossip column." The column, in the Roll Call newspaper, cited an unnamed witness in describing Vitter's exchange with an airline employee as a " 'do-you-know-who-I-am' tirade that apparently grew quite heated."
So far, it's a "he said, she said" type of situation. That could change, however, if security cameras recorded the incident. Airport police officials declined to say whether such footage exists.
Vitter's airport woes have become highly politicized and come at an inopportune time for him.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which already had selected Vitter as a prime target for a challenge in 2010, released a statement this week inducting him into its "Hall of Shame" and mentioning his brush with a D.C. prostitution operation, an incident Vitter proclaimed a "very serious sin."
Vitter's office did not respond directly to The Washington Post's request for comment on the airport flap, forwarding the request to National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh. He contacted The Post yesterday to defend Vitter and brought up another recent aviation incident, in which Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) persuaded a US Airways shuttle to depart New York early so he could make an important vote.
"There's a clear double standard here on how this story is being covered versus Senator Schumer using his office to have a US Airways plane leaving LaGuardia early," Walsh said.