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May 12, 2011 2:55 PM Ensign scandal referred to Justice Dept for prosecution

By Steve Benen

The biggest scandal involving a sitting U.S. senator in 16 years has resulted in a bombshell: the Senate ethics committee believes Republican John Ensign committed crimes, and has referred the matter to the Justice Department for prosecution.

Senate Ethics Committee special counsel found “substantial credible evidence that provides substantial cause to conclude that [former Sen. John] Ensign violated Senate Rules and federal civil and criminal laws, and engaged in improper conduct reflecting upon the Senate, thus betraying the public trust and bringing discredit to the Senate,” according to a report posted to the committee website.

The Ethics Committee referred the evidence of possible of possible legal violations to the Justice Department on Thursday.

The findings come nearly two years after the ethics committee began its probe, and nine days after Ensign resigned from the Senate in disgrace. He was scheduled to speak to the committee under oath on May 4, prompting his departure on May 3.

Specifically, in its letter (pdf) to Attorney General Eric Holder, the ethics committee’s members presented evidentiary materials showing Ensign “aided and abetted violations of the one-year post-employment contract restriction,” “conspired to violate that restriction,” “made false statements to the Federal Election Commission,” “violated campaign finance laws,” and “obstructed the Committee’s preliminary inquiry.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told reporters that Ensign, had he stayed in the Senate, would now be facing an expulsion vote.

For those of us who’ve followed this scandal closely, this isn’t at all a surprise. Ensign has looked really guilty for a very long time.

To briefly recap for those who’ve forgotten — it’s always irked me that major media outlets almost completely ignored this story — Ensign’s humiliation came to public attention in June 2009, when we learned the conservative, “family-values” senator carried on a lengthy extra-marital relationship with one of his aides, who happened to be married to another one of his aides. Ensign’s parents tried to pay off the mistress’ family.

The scandal grew far worse when we learned that the GOP senator pushed his political and corporate allies to give lobbying contracts to his mistress’s husband. When Douglas and Cynthia Hampton left Ensign’s employ — because, you know, the senator was sleeping with Cynthia — Ensign allegedly took steps to help them make up the lost income, leaning on corporate associates to hire Douglas as a lobbyist, and ignoring ethics laws that restrict how quickly former aides can begin lobbying careers.

Maybe now the major media outlets who’ve ignored this story for years — I’m looking in your direction, Washington Post — will realize this is a big deal? I mean, really. How often does a senator get busted this severely in a scandal with such a broad scope?

I’m obviously aware of the IOKIYAR rule, but this is a major development.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • DAY on May 12, 2011 3:04 PM:

    Listening to Sen Boxer, the charge that jumped out at me was "obstruction of justice".
    Ensign also lied under oath and "spoiled" documents.

    Will Obama's DOJ act on this, or say it was just another something the "former Administration" did, and "we won't go there".

    -caught by Captcha! 2nd try ensues. . .

  • AngryOldVet on May 12, 2011 3:17 PM:

    Referred to the hear no evil, see no evil, investigate and prosecute no republican crimes DOJ?

    Do you mean that DOJ? Why bother. Didn't they already concede that they don't prosecute republican criminals?

  • RepublicanPointOfView on May 12, 2011 3:19 PM:

    What is the big deal here? All wealthy white men are supposed to be able to make full usage of the hired help!

  • c u n d gulag on May 12, 2011 3:20 PM:

    I'll be shocked if there's even a hand slap.

  • mellowjohn on May 12, 2011 3:21 PM:

    so will ensign be "spending more time with his family" on visiting days?
    p.s. CAPTCHA still sucks.

  • T2 on May 12, 2011 3:26 PM:

    well yeah...this case was clearly headed to criminal court from the get-go. Ensign committed a crime.

  • Eeyore on May 12, 2011 3:33 PM:

    A few years back wasn't Ensign being mentioned as a potential Republican presidential or vice-presidential candidate. (He does have good, Romney-esque hair and a nice tan.) He would have made a perfect Family Values running made for Newt or The Donald.

    Or even a bi-partisan ticket..... Edwards/Ensign 2012 has a nice alliterative quality.

  • Danny on May 12, 2011 4:05 PM:

    >> The following day, February 17, 2008, Mr. and Ms. Hampton went to Senator Ensigns home early in the morning to talk about the affair. Darlene Ensign was in California at the time with her daughter. Mr. Hampton wanted the affair to stop, and wanted things to go back to how they were. It was not a good meeting because Senator Ensign stated that he was in love with Ms. Hampton and wanted to marry her and that Doug could not work for him any longer

    What an absolute asshole.

  • Danny on May 12, 2011 4:12 PM:

    >> Senator Ensign sent Ms. Hampton an email on April 1, 2008 asking whether it is
    possible to talk, and stated it concerns your job and a few loose ends. Ms. Hampton was
    shaking when she got the email, and called Senator Ensign because she believed it was about her job, which he knew she was fearful of losing. When she called, Senator Ensign stated that he missed me and wanted to still see me, thus using Ms. Hampton s job as a ruse to speak with her and confess further feelings to her.

  • Sasha on May 12, 2011 4:39 PM:

    I'm obviously aware of the IOKIYAR rule, but this is a major development.

    There's sex involved, so there's a good chance of it gaining traction (except on Fox, where it will be painted as a witchhunt).

  • LoveHate on May 12, 2011 4:45 PM:

    Oh, its water under the bridge. As Noonan would say, "sometimes you just have to move on." What would be the point of prosecuting a retired Senator, especially when Bonds and Clemens are still at large?

  • JS on May 12, 2011 5:15 PM:

    One small detail of this scandal that always got me, was that Ensign's parents paid the (I believe) $95,000 hush money, but banking rules stated that any transaction over $20,000 had to be reported to the Feds.

    They got around that by writing checks to the mistress, the cuckold, and three of their four children for $19,000 each.

    What was wrong with little Timmy???

  • hell's littlest angel on May 12, 2011 5:32 PM:

    Republicans would probably be glad to see Ensign out of sight, that is, in prison. Me, I'd like to see Ensign go to trial in mid-October of next year.

    Hey Steve, have you seen Huckabee's time-traveling kiddies "educational" cartoon yet? "Gimme yo money!"

    Bye, Huck.

  • David V. on May 12, 2011 6:04 PM:

    So now it comes out that Santorum tipped off Ensign that Mr. Hampton was going to go public about the affair, well maybe now the Washington Post will get interested.

  • majun on May 12, 2011 6:55 PM:

    When the C Street Family is involved, it goes way beyond the pale of IOKIYAR.

    When is the MSM going to get wise to the C Streeters and investigate them? When are the Ethics Committees going to do their duty and investigate The Family?

  • Pyre on May 12, 2011 8:45 PM:

    Doesn't this run afoul of DC's laws against prostitution?

  • Rick Massimo on May 13, 2011 5:22 AM:

    "Maybe now the major media outlets whove ignored this story for years Im looking in your direction, Washington Post will realize this is a big deal? I mean, really. How often does a senator get busted this severely in a scandal with such a broad scope?"

    You're joking, right? He resigned - it's all over. No story. All finished. Now, if he were a Democrat like John Edwards, it would be completely different, because, um ...

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