Ensign could be in deep trouble
by desmoinesdem, Sat Oct 03, 2009 at 04:10:29 PM EDT
In June, Senator John Ensign of Nevada became the luckiest adulterer in American politics when South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford didn't hike the Appalachian Trail. Ensign had been involved with campaign staffer Cynthia Hampton, who was married to Senate staffer Doug Hampton, but Sanford's bizarre pronouncements about his "love story" and Argentinian "soulmate" wiped Ensign off the media's agenda. Even the news that Ensign's parents gave the Hampton family $96,000 wasn't enough to get the Nevada senator back in the spotlight. His approval rating took a big hit and continued to slide during the summer, but he had reason to hope this scandal would fade before he faced re-election in 2012.
Unfortunately for him, New York Times reporters Eric Lichtblau and Eric Lipton have been researching Ensign's efforts to help Doug Hampton find work upon leaving his Senate office. First, Ensign "contacted a small circle of political and corporate supporters back home in Nevada" to see whether anyone had work for Hampton.
In the coming months, the senator arranged for Mr. Hampton to join a political consulting firm and lined up several donors as his lobbying clients, according to interviews, e-mail messages and other records. Mr. Ensign and his staff then repeatedly intervened on the companies' behalf with federal agencies, often after urging from Mr. Hampton. [...]
The senator declined to be interviewed. But his office said that the inquiries he had made about work for Mr. Hampton were "only recommendation calls" and that the senator's actions in support of his former aide's clients were "not at the behest of Mr. Hampton."
Mr. Hampton and his wife, in a series of interviews, provided a detailed account of Mr. Ensign's efforts to mitigate the fallout from the affair, which ruptured two families that had been the closest of friends.
Mr. Hampton said he and Mr. Ensign were aware of the lobbying restriction but chose to ignore it. He recounted how the senator helped him find clients and ticked off several steps Mr. Ensign took to assist them with their agendas in Washington, activities confirmed by federal officials and executives with the businesses.
"The only way the clients could get what John was essentially promising them -- which was access -- was if I still had a way to work with his office," Mr. Hampton said. "And John knew that."
There's much more detail on the lobbying in the New York Times article. The Times also reported, "The Justice Department and the Senate Ethics Committee are expected to conduct preliminary inquiries into whether Senator John Ensign violated federal law or ethics rules" by letting or even encouraging Doug Hampton to lobby his office.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn't seem eager to defend Ensign, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday:
Asked if Mr. Ensign could be an effective senator in light of ethical questions raised by the New York Times Friday, Mr. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said only: "Sen. Ensign continues to serve. He's a member of the Finance Committee, been active in the discussions there." [...]
At a news conference on health care, Mr. McConnell was asked several times about Mr. Ensign but declined to take a firm position. "I really don't have any observations to make about the Ensign matter," he said repeatedly.
The Senate Ethics Committee has been looking into the Ensign matter since a complaint was filed on June 24 by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group. Friday's revelations give the committee additional allegations to investigate.
Ensign's no longer just another Republican hypocrite on family values. I see lots of legal fees and in all likelihood no re-election campaign in his future.