The End May Be Nigh for John Ensign's Political Career
by Senate Guru, Mon Apr 05, 2010 at 05:32:41 PM EDT
Nevada's top political journalist, Jon Ralston, reports:
In the federal penal code, it is known as "structuring."
And it is a word Sen. John Ensign should remember because it is very likely to be on any indictment with his name on it.
That’s what I am told by a reliable source familiar with the deliberations occurring inside the Justice Department as federal authorities in Washington try to do with Ensign what they could not do with former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens: Get their man. Or, because they had Stevens and then lost him because of misconduct, Justice wants to make sure if it goes to the next step with Ensign, the charges stick.
Indictment? Don't mind if I do. (Remember, it was the abysmal Bush DOJ that fumbled the Stevens prosecution.) So what is "structuring?"
Structuring is a broad term that refers to the crime of creating financial transactions to evade reporting requirements — for example, a $96,000 payment to your mistress laundered through a trust controlled by your parents and calling it a “gift” instead of what it obviously was: a severance payment that had to be reported.
Based on the facts already in public domain, it seems there may be enough for an indictment.
Two former federal prosecutors in the past two weeks have said there is enough evidence to indict Ensign. “Just based on what the senator has said himself and what Mr. (Doug) Hampton has said … under the federal standard of probable cause, there’s enough to indict the senator now,” ex-prosecutor Stan Hunterton, a well-respected local attorney, said March 19 on “Face to Face.” Then, Thursday on the program, Melanie Sloan, the former federal prosecutor who now heads a D.C. watchdog group that has filed several complaints against Ensign, said, “I completely think” Hunterton is right. ...
The department is being very deliberate in assembling a case against Ensign. But Justice has a mountain of documents and e-mails that, combined with the senator’s own admissions or statements in e-mails, would seem to amount to a formidable case. And last week’s New York Times story, showing how Ensign’s contacts with a local company (similar to several other interactions), show how far the senator was willing to go to get Hampton work, mostly while he was employed by ex-Ensign aides who had formed a lobbying/consulting firm. The structure, so to speak, is becoming more transparent all the time.
Beyond Ensign's dire and deserved legal fate, what are the political implications?
If Ensign gets indicted, he will become a national and state nightmare for the GOP. National Democrats will brandish him as a symbol of corruption (they may anyhow) and local Democrats will wrap the junior senator around the GOP Senate nominee’s neck, especially because Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian foolishly have said they would welcome his support. I wouldn’t even be surprised to see Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid directly go after his pal to boost his sagging fortunes. I can hear it now: “Sorry, John. But now you know how Doug Hampton feels — how it feels to be screwed over by your best friend.”
Why are the national and state Republicans mute? Cowardice, perhaps? Or is it, as NBC political guru Chuck Todd tweeted Friday, repeating something he previously said on “Face to Face” a couple of weeks ago: “NV/DC GOPers desperate to wait for Gov. Gibbons to be out of office before pushing Ensign out but can they really (http://nyti.ms/91kElt)?”
The Web link in Todd’s tweet is to last week’s Times story, emphasizing the point that if the Republicans wait too long, their silence could be very costly. And if Ensign gets indicted and no prominent Republican has called for him to resign, there’s no way to structure that deal to the GOP’s benefit.
Ensign and Washington Republicans can continue to do what they've been doing all along - ignore, ignore, ignore. But they might not be able to run out the clock on Election Day 2010 - still seven months away - before indictments come down. And, as Ralston points out, if the Washington Republican establishment stays mum on all of this, the issue becomes a matter of the entire Party coddling its corrupt members. Hmmmm, Republican Culture of Corruption, where have I heard that before? And that's on top of the already-competitive gubernatorial and Senate races in Nevada, which is also a key 2012 swing state, don't forget. (Lowden's and Tarkanian's poorly thought out statements welcoming Ensign's support will no doubt bite them in the backside if either is the Republican nominee against Majority Leader Harry Reid. The political ad writes itself.)
Particularly as it relates to the 2010 Senate races, the Senate Republican caucus is the Ensign-Vitter caucus. Every Republican incumbent Senator and candidate for U.S. Senate should be asked by their local media if they think hypocritical lawbreakers like John Ensign and David Vitter should resign their seats. They should be forced to call for the ouster of these hypocritical, lawbreaking Republicans or be forced to serve as apologists for them and let the voters decide. Though the media around the country largely may be dropping the ball on their responsibility, it appears federal investigators aren't. The national media that gave a relentless week of news coverage to the Eric Massa absurdity still hasn't fully given the Ensign matter (or the Vitter matter) its due. However, the handing down of indictments, should that come to pass, will be national news and should force the issue for every Republican seeking federal office in 2010.
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