Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Special Prosecutor Named in Ensign's Ethics Probe

Official photo of United States Senator John E...Image via Wikipedia

The Washington Post reports that the Senate Ethics Committee has appointed a special counsel to lead the investigation of activities connected to Sen. John Ensign's affair with a political aide. Ensign held the number four position in the Republican Party and had talked of running for President in 2012. The Justice Department, without explanation, declined to pursue criminal charges against Ensign, but he still faces possible disciplinary action by the Senate.  The announcement came as something of a surprise to many ethics lawyers, who said there appeared to be significant evidence that Ensign may have conspired to violate a criminal ban on federal lobbying.

Carol Elder Bruce, a partner in the firm K & L Gates, has been chosen as a special to conduct a “preliminary inquiry” into whether Ensign violated Senate rules during his affair with Cindy Hampton, a former campaign aide. Hampton’s husband, Doug Hampton, was Ensign’s deputy chief of staff during most of the extramarital relationship. When Hampton found out about the senator's affair with Cynthia Hampton, Ensign helped line up jobs for Hampton with campaign donors. Federal criminal law bars former Senate aides from lobbying in the Senate for a year after they leave their congressional jobs.

Ensign's parents provided the Hamptons with $96,000 that they described as a gift. The  Federal Election Commission has dismissed its complaint against Ensign, his parents, his campaign and his political action committee over the money paid to Cynthia Hampton, with whom the Nevada Republican has admitted having an affair.  The FEC said in a written statement explaining its reasons that Ensign's parents considered the April 2008 payment to Hampton, her husband and their children a gift given out of concern for longtime family friends. Hampton is a former Ensign campaign aide, and her husband Doug Hampton used to be an Ensign congressional staffer.

The commission said Ensign's parents, Michael and Sharon Ensign, wrote a $96,000 check, intending that $24,000 go to each member of the Hampton family: Doug and Cynthia Hampton and their two sons. It said the Ensigns wanted to give the family $100,000 but gave a lesser amount because it would fall within the maximum permitted tax-free gift limits under IRS rules. The senator's parents told the commission the gift was part of a pattern of financial largesse that they, the senator and his wife had given to the Hamptons over several years.

Obviously, money, power and position speaks.  Senator Ensign has gotten a pass from The Justice Department and The Federal Elections Commission.  Now we'll see if the Senate Ethics Committee also finds him as pure as snow.  The final say will come from the voters of Nevada who'll decide if John Ensign should represent them in the Senate.  Let's hope no one trots out the likes of Sharron Angle again.

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