Blockbuster Report on Ensign Affair May End His Career

An explosive investigation could be his political death knell

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The scandal over Senator John Ensign's affair with a staffer is heating up in a big way. A massive New York Times investigation reports, "in trying to clean up the mess from the illicit relationship and distance himself from the Hamptons, he entangled political supporters, staff members and Senate colleagues, some of whom say they now feel he betrayed them." Ensign used his office extensively to benefit Doug Hampton, Ensign's staffer and the husband of his mistress, in an apparent desire to buy Hampton's silence and keep the affair secret. In addition to the story's many salacious details, it implies possible violations of lobbying laws by both Ensign and Hampton.

  • What's Still Unexplained in Ensign's Story   Rachel Maddow was all over the scandal, teasing out unexplained details and discussing it in-depth with Times reporter Eric Lipton. "In terms of potential criminal liability and ethics liability here though, it's not so much a question of what Senator Ensign did at Doug Hampton's request, isn't it simply a matter that Doug Hampton was lobbying John Ensign at a time when he really was not allowed to be doing so?" she asked Lipton. "Also still unexplored is John Ensign's role in getting the son of his mistress a job at the Republican Party Senate Campaign Committee." Maddow dismissed the Ensign office's explanation that a $96,000 check to the Hampton family was just a gift. "It doesn't seem credible. It seems like an impossible case."
  • Ensign's Political Death  Steve Benen predicted the end of Ensign's political career. "There are all kinds of ethics laws and lobbying rules intended to prevent the very actions Ensign seems to have taken. The Republican senator personally intervened with private companies to help land lobbying jobs for his mistress' husband, and then proceeded to use his Senate office to do favors for those companies that cooperated," he wrote. "If propriety still has any meaning, John Ensign's career is finished. Given what we've learned, his ability to function as an effective lawmaker is a thing of the past."
  • Remember, Ensign Slammed Clinton's Affair  Taylor Marsh compared the Ensign scandal to President Bill Clinton's impeachment hearing, where Ensign was an outspoken critic of Clinton. "Ensign also said that '[Pres. Bill Clinton] sent taxpayer-paid staff out to lie for him, and that is a misuse of office.' Well, the tale currently unraveling puts Ensign smack dab in the middle of misuse of office territory, even though that’s where he’s been from the beginning," Marsh wrote. "It makes Vernon Jordan’s involvement in helping Monica Lewinski land job look lame. Ensign was the fixer, all the while he was flouting a lobbying rules in order to save his own skin amidst doing favors for his mistresses husband’s employer."
  • What Will This Mean for Nevada Politics?  Newsweek's Katie Connolly wondered about the consequences in Ensign's home state of Nevada. "It will be interesting to see how this plays in Nevada. GOPers are madly hoping that they'll be able to knock Harry Reid off in the 2010 elections, but this sort of political tarnish could spill over to the Nevada GOP more broadly and hurt that effort."
  • 'Why We Still Need Newspapers'  The New Republic's Chris Orr pauses to celebrate the depth of investigative work in the report. "The Times's exceptionally well-reported investigation of the John Ensign sex scandal--which, the piece makes clear, evolved into an influence-peddling, quasi-blackmail scandal--drops more shoes than Riverdance," he joked. "A single paragraph doesn't begin to do it justice."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.