Sen. John Ensign scandal gets deeper with allegation of lobbying misdeeds
Did Senator Ensign violate a lobbying ban by helping a former staffer who's wife he had had an affair with? Ethics watchdogs think so.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Sen. John Ensignâ€™s Senate colleagues stood by him today, after a news report in the New York Times raised new questions of possible legal violations in how the Nevada senator wound down an affair with a campaign staffer.
At issue in todayâ€™s report is whether the two-term Nevada senator helped former top aide Doug Hampton violate a one-year lobbying ban and then did favors for his clients.
Previous reports disclosed a $96,000 "severance payment" to the Hamptons and two of their children from Ensign's parents that ethic watchdogs say should have been publicly reported.
The Senate ethics panel does not comment on ongoing investigations, including whether a senator is being investigated. Senator Ensignâ€™s office did not return calls for comment.
But outside watchdog groups say that senators are undermining the credibility of their institution by dismissing breaches of ethics. Previous reports disclosed a severance payment of $96,000 to the Hampton family that ethics groups say should have been reported in campaign records.
â€śEnsign has criminal issues here that make it more than just an indiscretion,â€ť says Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
While itâ€™s Mr. Hampton who allegedly violated the one-year lobbying ban, â€śEnsign knew about the one-year ban and then decided to ignore it. Thatâ€™s a conspiracy charge," she said. "From a matter of ethics, I think itâ€™s also quite troubling that Senator Ensign was abusing his Senate office to set up meetings for Hamptonâ€™s clients to simply appease Hampton and keep his affair quiet. Thatâ€™s why he has to go.â€ť
â€śThe Senate has an ethics standard that says theyâ€™ll discipline people who bring discredit on the eyes of the Senate, but they donâ€™t,â€ť she adds . â€śIt discredits the Senate in the eyes of the public. Itâ€™s exactly what makes people cynical about politics,â€ť she adds.
Many senators have survived scandal and gone on to distinguished Senate careers. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts weathered the 1969 Chappaquiddick accident and forged a historic record as a legislator. Sens. John Glenn (D) of Ohio and John McCain (R) of Arizona were reelected after the 1991 Keating Five corruption investigation, and McCain became the Republican Partyâ€™s presidential nominee in 2008.
By contrast, senators voted in 1989 not to confirm former Sen. John Tower (R) of Texas, when he came before the body for confirmation as Secretary of Defense, over concerns about his drinking habits. Former Sen. Larry Craig (R) of Idaho, who plead guilty to disorderly conduct after an arrest on charges of lewd conduct in an airport restroom, was criticized publicly by Senate GOP leadership. Senator McConnell called Craigâ€™s actions â€śunforgivableâ€ť and Senator Ensign, then chairman of GOP Senate campaign effort, said that he would resign if he were in Craigâ€™s position.
â€śA lot of indiscretions have been forgotten, and a lot of senators have gone on and been productive,â€ť says Senate historian Donald Ritchie. â€śBut indiscretion is not valued in the Senate.â€ť