Sen. John Ensign’s abrupt resignation spares him the spectacle of public hearings airing the details surrounding his affair with a former aide, but the Ethics Committee appears likely to publicly rebuke his conduct nonetheless.
Ethics Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) issued a brief but telling joint statement Thursday night saying that the Nevada Republican made the “right decision” to resign, but also making clear that they would wrap up their work in a “timely” fashion after an exhaustive 22-month inquiry.
The ethics panel loses its ability to formally discipline Ensign after his resignation takes effect May 3, but can still issue a public report on his conduct, or refer its findings to law enforcement if the panel believes a crime may have been committed.
Ensign cited the spectacle of an airing of his dirty laundry during public hearings as a reason for his abrupt resignation, which comes a month and a half after he announced he would not run for re-election.
The final stages of an ethics case typically include a deposition from the Senator followed by public hearings.
For the Senate panel, the question now may be how harshly to rebuke Ensign for not only his behavior, but how he has treated the ethics process itself. Up to the end, Ensign said his actions had not violated “any law, rule or standard of conduct of the Senate” — something Boxer and Isakson implicitly disagree with in their statement.
Last month, as Ensign announced that he would not run for re-election, he talked about there being “consequences to sin.” But his resignation announcement itself contained no hint of an apology or responsibility for his conduct.
Ensign has admitted to having an affair with Cynthia Hampton, then a campaign aide and the wife of a senior aide and friend, Doug Hampton. After the affair was discovered by Doug Hampton but before it was made public, the Hamptons left Ensign’s payroll, but Ensign’s parents reportedly sent the Hamptons $96,000. Doug Hampton then started lobbying and has alleged that Ensign helped him line up clients.
Regardless of what the ethics panel decides to do, the case could still get a public airing in court.
Doug Hampton pled not guilty earlier this month to charges he violated federal revolving-door laws.
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