McConnell Refuses to Comment on Ensign Scandal
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to comment Friday morning on explosive new allegations that Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) knowingly violated a host of lobbying and ethics rules.“I don’t really have any observations to make about the Ensign matter,— McConnell told reporters when asked whether he would seek a formal Ethics Committee investigation of the allegations, first reported in the New York Times on Thursday night. When asked whether Ensign was still fit to serve in the Senate, McConnell simply said: “Sen. Ensign continues to serve.—A Democratic aide familiar with the Ethics Committee said Thursday night that at a minimum the panel would open a “preliminary— investigation based on the New York Times report, which laid out how Ensign helped his then-mistress’s husband, Doug Hampton, land a lobbying job, steered clients in Hampton’s direction and provided those clients with legislative favors.The new charges are the latest in an evolving scandal surrounding Ensign’s affair with a former campaign aide, Cynthia Hampton. Ensign admitted to the affair and later to having his family provide a series of payments to her family.Republican leadership aides were quick to make a distinction between McConnell’s handling of the Ensign situation and the sex scandal that engulfed former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), who pled guilty to disorderly conduct in the Minneapolis airport. Although McConnell was quick to demand an ethics investigation into Craig, he has largely avoided comment on the Ensign affair and has not pressed for an investigation.Ensign had served as the Senate GOP Policy Committee chairman, a position that he immediately resigned after revealing the relationship with Cynthia Hampton.A GOP leadership aide noted that in the Craig case, the issue had been “legally adjudicated— and the Idaho Republican pleaded guilty to the charges — which forced McConnell’s hand. In the Ensign case, however, the Nevadan has not been indicted nor has he been charged with a crime.According to the New York Times, Ensign helped Doug Hampton get his job as a lobbyist and contacted a number of donors, including a casino designer, an airline executive and an utility executive, on Hampton’s behalf. At the time, Ensign was having the affair with Cynthia Hampton.After his departure from Ensign’s office, “the senator arranged for Mr. Hampton to join a political consulting firm and lined up several donors as his lobbying clients, according to interviews, e-mail messages and other records. Mr. Ensign and his staff then repeatedly intervened on the companies’ behalf with federal agencies in Washington, often after urging from Mr. Hampton,— the newspaper report said.According to the Times, Hampton acknowledged in an interview that he and Ensign understood they were violating a one-year ban on lobbying by former Senate staffers but chose to move ahead with their plan anyway.“Mr. Hampton said he and Mr. Ensign were aware of the lobbying restriction but chose to ignore it. He recounted how the senator helped him find clients and ticked off several steps Mr. Ensign took to assist them with their agendas in Washington, activities confirmed by federal officials and executives with the businesses,— the newspaper said.