Las Vegas Sun

November 22, 2014

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THE SENATOR’S SCANDAL:

John Ensign signals affair still off-limits

After commenting the day before, he refuses to answer questions

John Ensign

John Ensign

Sen. John Ensign walked on a Lake Tahoe beach in black tasseled loafers Thursday, prepared to speak about the invasive Asian clams plaguing the lake, but not the scandal that has that has shadowed him since June.

At the annual Lake Tahoe Forum, Ensign attempted to move on from the scandal, refusing to answer questions about his affair with his best friend’s wife, then-staff member Cynthia Hampton, or the $96,000 his parents gave to the woman and her family.

Ensign delivered a 10-minute talk, without notes, to about 200 environmentalists, Lake Tahoe recreation enthusiasts and residents and representatives of government agencies. The group asked no questions.

Ensign trudged off the stage, ignoring a line of reporters until one asked if he was going to answer questions. He paused to address a question about the lake.

Another reporter piped up: “We’ve got to ask you — you know the question is coming.”

Ensign stopped her. “I’ve said everything I was going to say about that yesterday,” he said, referring to brief remarks he made Wednesday to an Associated Press reporter in rural Fernley. He responded to another question about the affair by saying he would not talk about “that.”

Ensign is making his first public swing through Nevada since he admitted to the affair. If Thursday was any indication, he will use the time with constituents and the media to address issues other than the scandal.

The senator has vowed not to resign and to seek reelection when his term is up in 2012.

He did speak briefly about the affair at Wednesday’s Fernley Chamber of Commerce event, where he received a standing ovation. Ensign was asked about his call in 1998 for former President Bill Clinton to step down after it was revealed that the president had an affair with an intern. Ensign told the AP reporter that his situation is different. “I haven’t done anything legally wrong,” he said.

Ensign is spending this week making rural stops. His staff, which has kept his schedule largely under wraps, said he will be in Las Vegas next week.

It has been two months of bad news for Ensign — disclosure of the gift from his parents, the public release of a letter about the affair written by Ensign to Cynthia Hampton, a televised interview with Cynthia Hampton’s husband, Doug Hampton.

At Ensign’s June news conference, where he admitted the affair and said he had made a mistake, he declined to take questions. Since then he has repeatedly declined to answer questions, citing a complaint filed by a public watchdog group.

His visit to Northern Nevada is a sharp contrast to April, when Ensign stopped in Carson City to address the Legislature. He was en route to Iowa, an early presidential nominating state, fueling talk that he could be in line for a spot on the Republican’s 2012 ticket.

He talked about how he would help rebuild the Nevada Republican Party, which had been trounced in 2008.

During Thursday’s appearance, Ensign took a boat ride to check out the Asian clams for himself. Afterward, he retreated to the VIP tent, where he picked at a Danish. Walking to the stage, he shook hands with a couple of audience members.

When he was introduced he drew mild applause — on par with that given Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Gov. Jim Gibbons.

When it was over, a reporter asked how he was doing.

“I’m doing great,” he said. “This is a perfect day to be out here.”

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