Friday, Aug. 21, 2009 | 2:01 a.m.
Listen carefully, children, because here is your lesson of the week from Nevada role model John Ensign: Even if you sleep with your best friend’s wife while both are working for you, even if you get Dad to pay them off as you usher them out of your employ, even if you have spent your public career chastising those you deem morally inferior, it’s only a “distraction” if you “haven’t done anything legally wrong.”
Even by most standards of moral relativism, Sen. Ensign’s attempt to raise himself higher by comparing his misdeeds with Bill Clinton’s is obscene. Most people knocked off a high horse would at least feign repentance for a reasonable time and might never ride again. But not John Ensign, whose other lesson appears to be: If you fall off your high horse, dust yourself off, regain your swagger and climb right back on to start moralizing again, unfettered by facts or decency.
I don’t care if you are a conservative who thinks Ensign still votes right or believe he has been a victim of the liberal media. Even Ensign’s most ardent defenders have to be repelled by his comments to AP reporter Scott Sonner in Fernley this week in which he tried to draw a distinction between his dalliance and the former president’s affair, thus not only showing he is striving for new heights of hypocrisy but also rewriting history and, inadvertently, making the case for his own resignation.
In case you missed what Ensign said, he delivered a rambling, almost incoherent answer to Sonner when asked about how his situation — he had an affair with campaign treasurer Cynthia Hampton, whose husband, Doug, was his top aide — was different from when he called for Clinton’s resignation:
“I thought that there was a violation of a felony ... in the case of President Clinton, first of all he was president and he stood right before the American people and he lied to the American people. You remember the famous day that he lied to the American people, plus the fact that I thought he suborned perjury. That’s why I voted for articles of impeachment ... I haven’t done anything legally wrong.”
It’s hard to know where to begin with that astonishing statement. But let’s start here: Ensign is either rewriting history or dissembling. The time line here is important.
On Sept. 11, 1998, a date that could prove to be Ensign’s personal 9/11, the then-congressman told the Review-Journal’s Tony Batt why Clinton should resign: “I came to that conclusion recently, and frankly it’s because of what he put his whole Cabinet through and what he has put the country through. He has no credibility left.”
First, you notice Ensign said nothing about a crime. Indeed, his call for the president to step down came before the Starr report had even been released.
Second, if Ensign believed Clinton should have quit because he had lost credibility, what to say about a Promise Keeping senator who wagged his finger at Clinton and Larry Craig? Indeed, what do you think the pre-June 16 (the day he disclosed the affair) John Ensign would have said about the post-June 16 John Ensign? My guess: “He should resign because he has no credibility left.”
Finally, Ensign’s invoking that “famous day” when Clinton lied is remarkable. After acknowledging he lived a lie, after calling the cuckolded husband a liar after Hampton appeared on “Face to Face” and after offering up the obvious canard that his family gave $96,000 in “gifts” to the Hamptons after he sent them packing from D.C., who is the more accomplished prevaricator, Ensign or Clinton?
Whatever you think of Clinton, he never prattled on about the sanctity of marriage as Ensign did. He never assailed the moral failings of others from his self-constructed pulpit. And he never roomed with a group of like-thinkers in a creepy, cultish C Street house where fidelity to wives was considered secondary — or unnecessary — compared with fidelity to The Family. Indeed, back in 1998, Ensign told Batt that his roomies and he “all talked about it last night, and agreed that (Clinton) should resign.” And then, I bet, they prayed for his soul.
Ensign also told Batt that Clinton should resign because “he sent taxpayer-paid staff out to lie for him, and that is a misuse of office.” And having an affair with a subordinate whose husband works for you and then paying them off is not a misuse of office?
I wonder, as they digest role model Ensign’s lesson, how the senator’s kids — or the Hampton children — feel about his assertion that he should stay in office because he hasn’t “done anything legally wrong.”