After concluding that former Sen. John Ensign had likely violated both federal civil and criminal laws in the aftermath of an extra-marital affair, the Senate Ethics Committee on Thursday issued a devastatingly detailed portrait of a lawmaker so consumed with his own desire that he was oblivious or indifferent to the casualties left in his wake.
The striking 75-page report, prepared by a special counsel hired by the committee to investigate the Nevada Republican, describes a wayward lawmaker so brazen in his attempts to woo the wife of his top aide — that he ignored pleas from longtime advisers and Congressional colleagues to end the affair, proposed to his mistress at the National Prayer Breakfast and asked staffers and family to break gift, lobbying and campaign finance laws once the tryst had soured.
“The concealment conduct in this case by Senator Ensign exceeded the normal acts of discretion and created a web of deceit that entangled and compromised numerous people, including a loyal Chief of Staff,” the report said.
In voting unanimously to take the rare step of referring a former colleague to both the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission, Ethics Committee leaders also made the unusual decision to announce the special counsel’s conclusions on the Senate floor. Ethics Chairman Barbara Boxer said “these findings are so disturbing” that had Ensign not resigned on May 3, his misconduct “would have been substantial enough to warrant the consideration of expulsion.”
“When Senator Ensign resigned, he said, and I quote ‘I have not violated any law, any rule or a standard of conduct’ unquote. I want to go on record as chairman of the Ethics Committee to say how strongly I disagree with that statement,” Boxer said.
Ensign’s attorneys said Thursday that the committee rushed to judgment on issues without reviewing the Senator’s explanations, and the attorneys denied any crimes.
While Ensign has admitted to making mistakes and poor behavior “this is not the same as agreeing that he did or intended to violate any laws or rules,” attorneys Robert Walker and Abbe Lowell said in a statement.
Ensign filed a detailed statement with the committee Wednesday, and the lawyers said “given his resignation and announcement that he was not running for re-election, there does not seem to be any real reason for a rush to create a report.”
Ethics investigators said they were “careful not to seek intimate details of the extramarital affair” during the 22-month investigation, which required 32 subpoenas for documents, the review of more than a half-million pages and the testimony of 72 witnesses. Nevertheless, the report tells the story of how two families that were supposed to “walk through life together” instead ended in ruin.
Ensign, one-time chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and rising star in the Republican Party, was forced to resign from his Senate seat and faces possible criminal and civil investigations by the Justice Department and the FEC. His former aide, Doug Hampton, was indicted in March for violating a one-year ban on lobbying after leaving the Hill. His former mistress, Cynthia Hampton, has filed for both bankruptcy and divorce. There are allegations that his parents, Michael and Sharon Ensign, may have submitted false affidavits to the FEC in their effort to help Ensign cover up illegal severance payments made from a family trust.
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