Ethics Committee leaders to speak on Ensign case
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Ethics Committee leaders prepared on Thursday to disclose information about the investigation of former Sen. John Ensign, whose conduct came under scrutiny after an affair with the wife of a former top Ensign aide.
The Senate cannot punish a senator no longer serving, but could make referrals to the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission for further investigation of the Nevada Republican.
Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Vice Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said they would address the Senate.
Ensign resigned May 3 rather than face a continuing Senate inquiry that could have included public hearings about his affair with Cynthia Hampton, a former campaign aide. She's the wife of Douglas Hampton, who was Ensign's co-chief of staff.
The investigation has focused on at least two developments that followed disclosure of the affair.
Ensign's parents paid the Hampton family $96,000, raising the question of whether the money was an illegal contribution to the senator's campaign. Douglas Hampton said the money was a severance payment.
Another focus was Ensign's connection to Douglas Hampton's work as a lobbyist for two Nevada firms after he left Ensign's staff. Federal law prohibits a senior Senate aide from lobbying the Senate for one year after ending employment.
Hampton has been indicted on charges of lobbying Ensign and his staff in violation of that restriction. He pleaded not guilty.
Ensign himself came under a Justice Department investigation into whether he conspired with Hampton to violate the lobbying law.
Ensign's lawyers said last December that the Justice Department informed them that he was no longer the target of an investigation.
However, the committee may have extensive material that could revive a criminal investigation. Likewise, the committee could have information that would interest the FEC, which has previously dismissed a complaint against Ensign over the $96,000 payment.
The indictment said that while lobbying for Allegiant Air, a low-cost carrier in Las Vegas, Hampton sought the assistance of Ensign and a legislative aide to Ensign. Hampton wanted help in convincing the Transportation Department to reconsider its position on a fuel surcharge pricing issue, the indictment said.
Hampton allegedly sought the aid of Ensign and his staff to help schedule a March 2009 meeting involving the secretary of transportation and executives from the airline company.
The indictment said that, on behalf of NV Energy, the largest electricity provider in Nevada, Hampton sought assistance from Ensign and his chief of staff to expedite the release of a U.S. Interior Department environmental impact statement regarding a coal-fired power plant.
The effort was designed to allow the energy company to move forward on its delayed proposal to build the plant, the indictment said.