Ethics Committee Would Have Considered Expelling Ensign

Senate panel takes unusual move in making investigation into Ensign's affair public

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Today, the Senate Ethics Committee released the findings from its two-year investigation into John Ensign's attempts to cover up his affair with the wife of Doug Hampton, his longtime friend and staffer. In revealing the report on the Senate floor, committee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer quoted Ensign: "I have not violated any law, rule, or standard of conduct of the Senate." That statement, Boxer said, is "wrong." The panel found "substantial credible evidence" that Ensign conspired to violate laws restricting Hampton's lobbying work, made misleading statements about the $96,000 his parents gave to the Hamptons, discriminated on the basis of sex, and "permitted the spoilation of documents" by deleting a Gmail account. The committee's report finds that its special counsel "is confident that the evidence that would have been presented in an adjudicatory hearing would have been substantial and sufficient to warrant the consideration of the sanction of expulsion." That's the highest punishment the Senate can dole out--the last Senate expulsion was in 1862.

Making the documents public is a highly unusual step, Politico's Manu Raju reports, one that "signals that the case has become the most serious investigation the panel has dealt with in years." Ensign resigned from the Senate May 2, a move some suggested was motivated by his desire to avoid answering the committee's special counsel's questions.

Unlike your typical 75-page government document--with a three-page table of contents--the committee's report makes for fascinating reading. It provides background on the relationship between the Ensign and the Hamptons. The couples have known each other since 1986, before they were married. They vacationed together; the men started a Christian golf tournament together, and they worked together on Ensign's campaigns. Cynthia Hampton said it was the two men's "dream to always live by each other"; they moved three miles apart in 2004. In November 2007, the Hampton home was robbed, and Cynthia Hampton was scared to stay there. So the Ensigns offered to let the Hamptons live with them until she felt safe. That's when the affair began.

The report says that when Ensign began pursuing Cynthia, she asked if he'd lost his mind. He said yes.

According to Ms. Hampton, Senator Ensign just [wouldn't] stop, and "kept calling and calling," and "would never take no for an answer." Ms. Hampton was in a vulnerable emotional state and a "mess" at the time Senator Ensign was pursuing her, as her home had been burglarized, a family member was undergoing medical treatment, and Mr. Hampton's travel schedule back and forth to Washington gave them little time to be together. Ms. Hampton ultimately yielded to Senator Ensign's pleas. ...

At the time the affair began, Ms. Hampton's sole source of income was her work for [Ensign's political action committees]. Mr. Hampton's sole source of income was from his work as the Senator's Administrative Assistant. Senator Ensign had the power to fire both Ms. Hampton and Mr.Hampton.

Once the affair began, Ms. Hampton had serious concerns about her job with Senator Ensign's campaign. She stated that "I just didn't want to lose my job. I loved my job. I loved the people I worked with ... I had a lot of fear of losing my job." Ms. Hampton repeatedly communicated her concerns about her job to Senator Ensign. Ms. Hampton sought counseling beginning in approximately February 2008, and continuing during the affair, and was advised to tell Senator Ensign to stop contacting her, and that she wanted to continue working as his campaign treasurer. Senator Ensign told Ms. Hampton that "I'll do everything I can to keep you [employed]."

After the affair was revealed, Ensign made a similar commitment to Doug Hampton's employment--which is why Hampton was indicted on federal ethics charges earlier this year for lobbying his former office too soon after he'd quit working for Congress.

Senator Ensign facilitated Mr. Hampton's unlawful post-employment lobbying by pressuring contributors and constituents to hire Mr. Hampton even though he had no public policy experience or value as a lobbyist other than access to the Senator and his office. ... Mr. Hampton improperly contacted Senator Ensign's office regarding at least twelve different client matters, and initiated at least thirty improper contacts to Senator Ensign's office and various other Senate offices during his one-year post-employment ban period. Senator Ensign communicated with Mr. Hampton and took action on behalf of his clients ... 


Before and after Mr. Hampton's termination and during the time period when the Senator was helping Mr. Hampton get clients, Senator Ensign instituted office policies that had the effect of making Mr. Hampton's contacts harder to detect, including a shredding policy, discouraging use of official Senate email accounts in favor of Gmail, and directing that all inquiries of the Committee go through Mr. Lopez, the person he directed to interact with Mr. Hampton.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.