Feb. 11, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Ensign Returns, Quietly

Senator Addresses GOP Colleagues

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Sen. John Ensign leaves the Senate Republican policy luncheon Tuesday after apologizing to his colleagues about an extramarital affair with an ex-aide.

Beleaguered Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) appears to be following a path into the shadows traveled by many scandal-plagued lawmakers before him — by hiding from the press, refusing to talk, and hoping that time will push the whole episode into the background.

His apology to fellow Republicans was warmly received Tuesday, but Ensign took pains to avoid more public scrutiny following his revelation last week that he had an affair with a former campaign aide and that the woman’s husband sought money from him.

He slipped in and out of the Republicans’ weekly luncheon, presumably through a back staircase, without speaking to a throng of waiting reporters, including those with his hometown newspapers. And his office issued a terse statement about what went on in the meeting, where his two-minute mea culpa for having the affair and causing a distraction for the party was met with polite applause.

“He spoke to his colleagues and offered an apology that was well received and appropriate. Senators have been very gracious,” Ensign spokesman Tory Mazzola said in a statement.

Ensign apparently told colleagues that he had become a different person during the affair, a person he was not proud of.

Though no one in the Senate Republican Conference appears to have told Ensign to lay low and let the scandal run its course, Republicans said that’s clearly what is expected of him.

“This is where some of the unspoken rules of the Senate come into play, as well as common-sense politics,” one senior Senate GOP aide said.

Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman John Thune (S.D.) — who is poised to replace Ensign on Thursday as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee — indicated that Ensign is likely to throw himself into smaller, more parochial concerns, rather than continue trying to be a key voice of the GOP minority leadership.

“I’ll trust his judgment with regard to what he decides to do in terms of his profile,” Thune said. “But I think he’ll be a very active Senator on his committees, and I think he’ll be working very hard on legislation that’s good for the state of Nevada.”

Of course, keeping a low profile will only work if Ensign can avoid any more revelations about the affair with his former campaign treasurer, Cynthia Hampton.

Questions remain about what Ensign has alleged was an effort to obtain money by Doug Hampton, Cynthia’s husband and Ensign’s former administrative assistant.

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