Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of Senator Ted Kennedy and a congressman since 1994 was involved in a car accident early Thursday morning in Washington. There are charges of a cover-up by the Capitol Hill police.
Mary Ann Akers covers Congress for “Roll Call,” which broke the story. Ron Kessler, he's the author of “Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty that He Founded.”
Joe Scarborough discussed the story with Akers and Kessler on "Scarborough Country." This is a transcript of their conversation.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, "SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY": In this case, it sounds like the Capitol Hill police may have really screwed up. You've got charges of a cover-up, of a Kennedy, of alcohol involved. What's going on here?
MARY ANN AKERS, “ROLL CALL”: The letter from the Capitol Hill Police Union, officials say that they were trying to do their job. Very early this morning, at about 2:45, the congressman had a wreck, that he narrowly missed crashing into a police cruiser. Instead, he crashed into a police barricade.
They said he got out of the car and was swerving and staggering, that is the way they put it in the letter they wrote to their superiors. They tried to give him a sobriety test. According to the letter written by the Capitol Hill Police Union officials, they say that their superiors arrived on the scene and prevented them from giving the congressman the sobriety test. They also offered and gave the congressman a ride home.
SCARBOROUGH: So these officers on the scene actually are saying their superiors would not allow them to conduct a basic field sobriety test and figure out whether he was drunk or not?
AKERS: Well, that's what they're charging right now. They say that, not only were they not able to give the congressman the sobriety test, which they felt that they should do; because, as I said, they described him as staggering out of his car. I think there's more to this story according to the congressman. I can get to that in a few minutes.
The superiors on the scene, according to the letter written by the union officials, said that they wouldn't let the police on the scene give the congressman his sobriety test and also gave him a ride home. In other words, they're charging that he got preferential treatment.
SCARBOROUGH: I know conservatives and a lot of Republicans are going to be jumping all over this story, because it is a Kennedy, but what's the new story tonight? I understand that originally the congressman's office said that he wasn't intoxicated, but now it's possible he's going to come out and blame it on something else?
AKERS: No, he is going to release another statement. He is going to stand by his assertion that alcohol was not involved. He says that he was not drinking prior to the accident, and he's going to stand by that.
SCARBOROUGH: Actually, you know what? We just got the statement; it was just released, and NBC is reporting that he's blaming it on an anti-nausea medication that he took, and he claims that it caused him problems with driving.
AKERS: That's right.
SCARBOROUGH: There is a sad history, is there not, if alcohol was in fact involved, and tonight the congressman's office saying it was not—but there is a history of alcoholism in this family, isn't there?
RON KESSLER, AUTHOR: Sure. Both Patrick's parents, of course, have big alcohol problems. His mother Joan still does. There's been tremendous risky behavior in the Kennedy family.
Michael Kennedy, Bobby's son, was playing football while skiing and was killed. We had Ted Kennedy involved in drinking and causing the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in the Chappaquiddick incident.
I also did a book called “Inside Congress,” which quoted dozens of Capitol Hill police officers as saying that what we just heard is standard operating procedure when it comes to members of Congress. If the Capitol police officer comes across a member of Congress who's drinking, the person on the scene is dispensed with and higher-ups come in. They take the person home. There's no sobriety test.
Of course, if it were you or me, we would be in jail, if, in fact, we were drinking. So this is standard procedure.
SCARBOROUGH: Actually, when I served in Congress, it never happened to me, because I'd certainly saw it happening to a good number of people, that, you know, if the police came and got Congressman Kennedy, and took him home that's probably not just because he was a Kennedy, but because he was a congressman, right?
AKERS: I agree. I wouldn't automatically say this is a Kennedy thing. I think that very often the police do help members of Congress by covering these things up.
Look, I think what's interesting tonight is not that it's this other Kennedy story. I think what's interesting that when you look at Patrick Kennedy, this is somebody who has battled substance abuse. OK, we know that. This is somebody who struggles with depression. He is a manic depressive, and he's fairly open about that, only in recent years. He's bipolar. He takes medication for that.
SCARBOROUGH: He's also a likable guy, isn't he? I've known him since 1994. There are so many congressman who are self-important. This guy, with his background, you would think would have come in self-important. He's just a good guy. I like him a lot. I'm wishing nothing but the best for him.
AKERS: Well, he's a really nice guy. I've known him for years. And he's typically just a really shy person behind the scenes. He's not what you think of when you think of, you know, the dashing, very self-assured Kennedy. He's not like John-John. He does stay behind the scenes.
KESSLER: Can we get back to this double-standard? I think that's the real scandal here, you know, that members of Congress are arrogant. They have their own Capitol police force. Nobody can investigate what they do. Capitol police cover up for these members.
In fact, in my book, “Inside Congress,” I quoted a number of these officers as saying that they have a special procedure called un-arresting, which means that, if they have the misfortune to come across a congressman who's drunk and has caused an accident, and they didn't realize he was a congressman but they arrested him, and then they find out he's a congressman, they “un-arrest” him.
There's nothing like that in the law or the Constitution. I think it really tells you what is going on in Capitol Hill.
SCARBOROUGH: I would guess that you would agree with Mary Ann and myself that this has less to do with the power of the Kennedys than the power of congressmen to be able to get out of these type of incidents.
KESSLER: Exactly. Congress makes the laws and nobody can question this. There's nobody who can now investigate and find out what happened, because the Capitol police are the law, and it's the members of Congress who control what the Capitol police do.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thank you so much. I just want to say the statement says that Kennedy took Ambien and Phenergan. And anybody that's ever taken Ambien knows that, when you take Ambien, do not get behind the wheel of a car. I have taken it before, and I would not want to be driving a car around after I took it.