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Inside Politics

Webb's aide facing felony charge in gun flap

Story Highlights

• Webb aide released after pleading not guilty to weapons charge
• Aide told police he was carrying Webb's pistol, for which the senator has permit
• Webb says he gave his gun to different aides before he got on a plane
Webb defends his right to defend himself and his family
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Jim Webb called the arrest of a top aide on weapons charges "extremely unfortunate" Tuesday after the aide was stopped as he brought the senator's loaded pistol into a Senate office building.

Through an attorney, Phillip Thompson pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of carrying a pistol without a license Tuesday afternoon. He was released on his own recognizance after spending the night in jail.

Capitol police arrested Thompson on that count and misdemeanor charges of carrying an unregistered firearm and ammunition after they found the weapon in a briefcase he was carrying into the Russell Senate Office Building Monday afternoon. (Watch Webb on his aide's arrest Video)

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, said it was routine procedure for the office to present only the most serious count at an arraignment, with lesser charges presented to a grand jury.

Webb, a freshman Democrat from Virginia, declined comment on details of Thompson's case, but called him "a longtime friend" and "a fine individual."

"He has worked for me since the beginning of the campaign last year," he said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I think this is one of those very unfortunate situations where, completely inadvertently, he took the weapon into the Senate yesterday."

Webb has a concealed handgun permit in Virginia and an A rating from the National Rifle Association for his stances on gun rights. He said he handed his weapon off to aides before getting on a plane to New Orleans on Friday.

He said he did not give Thompson the weapon directly, and was unsure how it ended up with him.

"We had three cars on Friday that were being moved about because of my trip, and that is probably a reason that this inadvertent situation developed," he said. "And that's really the extent to which I think I should be discussing."

Thompson faces a May 1 hearing on the charge, which carries a range of sentences from probation to five years in prison. But Peter Hamm, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said Webb "really should take responsibility for this."

"He should be ashamed of himself," Hamm said. "His aide is facing legal bills up the wazoo."

Webb "should say it was a mistake and that it was my mistake," he added.

The group made no endorsement in last year's Virginia senate race, in which Webb won his seat.

The District of Columbia has much tighter gun laws than Virginia. It is illegal to carry a firearm in the capital city, and handguns are banned.

Webb spokeswoman Jessica Smith said she did not know whether her boss brings his weapon into the city. And the senator declined comment on his compliance with Washington ordinances, but said it is important for him "to be able to defend myself and my family."

"Since 9/11, for people who are in government, I think in general, there has been an agreement that it's a more dangerous time," he said.

"I'm not going to comment, again, with great specificity about how I defend myself, but I do feel that I have that right."

CNN's Brianna Keilar, Eric Fiegel and Scott Anderson contributed to this report.


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