The memorandum cites testimony by staffers and others that Ensign made “repeated references to the payment as severance,” resulting in a “near universal understanding of the payment to be related to Cynthia Hampton’s lost job.” The evidence, the memorandum also concludes, cast serious doubt on the affidavit’s denial that severance was even “suggested” in conversations between Ensign and his parents. For example, the memorandum cites evidence that Ensign negotiated the payment amount with Hampton’s husband as part of an “exit strategy” and made a journal entry near the time of the payment stating: “I did not want the government to have to pay any severance pay, or the campaign,” and “I went to my dad, and he said he would rather give them some money as a gift.”
Shortly after the FEC memorandum, Ensign and his parents settled the case with the FEC, and, without admitting to legal liability, agreed to pay fines.
As part of the settlement, Ensign’s campaign amended its disclosure reports to acknowledge that a portion of Ensign’s parents’ payment to Hampton was a contribution to the campaign.
Meanwhile, the fate of the DOJ investigation remains uncertain. Perhaps most significantly, the FEC used the term “misleading” to refer to the affidavits Ensign and his parents submitted to the FEC.
Misleading statements to the government are just the type of thing that can capture the DOJ’s interest. So, yes, the FEC did drop its investigations of Ensign and his parents in 2009. But, more than three years later, the Ensigns still may not be out of the woods. Stay tuned.
C. Simon Davidson is a partner with the law firm McGuireWoods. Submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions do not create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not treat his column as legal advice.