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July 26, 2014

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jon ralston:

Did Ensign conceive of the investigation around him?

“I can’t imagine him wanting to put his family through that or the Senate through that, but we’ll see.”

— John Ensign to the Associated Press in 2007 on prospects of Senate Ethics Committee hearing on Sen. Larry Craig

It’s hard to imagine what is unimaginable to John Ensign.

The Senate’s most accomplished fabulist — this is a low honor — lives in a different world from the rest of us, one where ethics are purely situational, where past statements are not binding, where standards he holds others to are irrelevant to him. As the Senate Ethics Committee signaled Tuesday by appointing a special counsel that it is moving forward with its probe of Ensign, the senator’s political life slithers closer to its endpoint, even if he remains unaware in that parallel universe impervious to reality.

When Larry Craig was caught in his foot-tapping scandal in the Minneapolis airport, no one was quicker than Ensign to suggest the Idaho senator resign, just as he precipitously called for Bill Clinton to step down after the Lewinsky scandal. “I wouldn’t put myself, hopefully, in that kind of a position like that but if I was in a position like that, I think that’s what I would do,” Ensign said in a very unchristian way, the milk of human kindness having evaporated. He also argued at the time that Craig’s resignation would be in the best interest of the Republican Party. “That’s obvious,” he told AP.

Ensign would argue the situation is different for him, and it is. It is worse. Ensign would say Craig pleaded guilty, but we know what Ensign is guilty of and there is no comparison.

Craig pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. Ensign’s conduct would have to be substantially upgraded to simply be called disorderly, whether the Justice Department ever charges him with a felony or the Senate Ethics Committee proceeds. I really don’t want to revisit the cavalcade of depredations, or throw in a gratuitous Joseph Welch quote. But I ask you: What is worse, doing what Craig did in that restroom, a victimless crime, or what Ensign did, which victimized many, many people?

This is, despite what his apologists suggest, not a sex scandal. It is a sordid tale of rank hypocrisy in which a U.S. senator had an affair with one of his staffers who was his best friend’s wife and his wife’s best friend, who then had his parents pay $96,000 to as a “gift” and who tried to soothe his soul by finding employment for the cuckolded husband. It is, in a word, unimaginable.

If Ensign truly cared about his family or the Senate or the Republican Party — as he suggested Craig should — he would not even be contemplating re-election, much less sending out fundraising letters Tuesday and meeting with his strategy team. Is he so narcissistic that he believes the country can’t live without him?

This is a pathology I find unfathomable, but symptomatic of the kind of self-delusion rarely seen even in the 202 area code. I suppose Ensign may have leave from God to do what he is doing — perhaps he dialed into the Lord on the dedicated John Ensign-Sharron Angle line. Or maybe they simply had a secret session at the C Street sanctuary and decided Ensign was too special, too gifted to simply become mortal again.

If anyone can bring Ensign down to Earth, it is Carol Elder Bruce, selected Tuesday by the ethics panel to be the special counsel in the sweater’s case. Bruce is a former prosecutor and independent counsel who apparently is known for her toughness and stick-to-itiveness. She has been involved in these kinds of probes before — with former Attorney General Ed Meese and ex-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt — and she is not afraid of unpopular causes — she has been an outspoken in protecting the rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees she has represented. This is not a woman who will be afraid to take on a U.S. senator.

Ensign’s lawyers tried to downplay the development, saying Bruce’s appointment “does not change the course of the inquiry.” But that was in stark contrast to news outlets that called the appointment “stunning” and “a dramatic turn.” Or as Politico’s John Bresnahan succinctly put it, “The appointment of special counsel, however, presents a new, and potentially devastating, blow to Ensign’s re-election prospects.”

Indeed. Ensign is one of the few people who has thought since his June 2009 disclosure of the affair and the subsequent revelations that he has any chance to survive. But many others surely have mused thusly:

I can’t imagine him putting his family through that or the Senate through that, but we’ll see.

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  1. This bizarre story continues to play out. The sooner it is resolved, one way or the other, the sooner potential candidates of both parties can sort themselves out. But little moves rapidly in the Senate, and it may force some of them to fish or cut bait, especially the R's. Interesting to see who does.

  2. Ensign's radio station antics would make the "wide stance" behavior of Craig look tame.

    Ensign met with low-rated (20th station) talk shouter Alan Stock for lunch. Who paid the bill? Questions were pre-screened and arranged by Stock and Ensign with the input of now fired Station Manager Jack Landreth. (Some "NEWS" organization.)

    It was then announced on KXNT that Ensign would be coming in for his "first exclusive interview." Listeners were told that a poll (unscientific)would be put on the Station website, of what questions should be asked: 1) Questions about the affair 2) Questions about policy 3) Mostly question about policy but a few about the affair.

    Suprise! surprise! the winner was: "Mostly questions about policy and a few about the affair." (Notice there was not a "mostly about the affair, and a few about policy" option.)

    The day of the interview, TV stations reported that station manager used a decoy car to shield Ensign from real media. The "hard hitting" interview involved Ensign blaming his wife for the affair. (Where is she? Is she going out on the campaign trail with Ensign?)

    Ensign will make a good opponent for Berkley. Will the same Republican puppetmasters that dug up Brian Somoza to oppose Gibbons, sacrifice Ensign in the primary?

    The only support Ensign has are a few dry-up casino barons from a by-gone era.

    I think the story will become more tragic, Ensign in my opinion is a sick, troubled man. He must have aged 6 years in the last 2.

  3. Jon asks: "Is he so narcissistic that he believes the country can't live without him?"

    This is exactly the case. He is special, is above everyone else and so judgements against him for anything he does are irrelevant to him. God, C Street and his mom told Ensign he is something special, not like Larry Craig or Bill Clinton.... So while they should be condemned, Ensign believes that all should be forgotten and he should be able to carry on with life as usual as a silver spoon entitled politician.

    I certainly hope he runs again!

  4. "I really don't want to revisit the cavalcade of depredations ..."

    But you did, didn't you? Well, no matter - since Ensign is supported by no one, he is beholden to no one, and he'll continue his downward spiral, like an over-long Ed Wood movie, holding our attention for all the wrong reasons. He's safe from any action by the Democrats, who are content to let him stink up the room, so unless the Republicans decide to take action against him, he'll finish another 23 months as the junior Senator from Nevada, and find some other way to make a living.

  5. Senator Ensign & his family are good people. For many years they have provided jobs for the people of Las Vegas & they love Nevada.His Senate seat has been targeted by those wishing to do harm to Nevadan's by privatizing every aspect of our lives.If his wife has stood by him, then who the heck are we to hold it against him? They have begun to try to discredit Ross Miller also to make sure he doesn't run for Ensign's seat.It is the local, long time residents that can be trusted-not the outsiders.

  6. Local Nevadan's know who Ensign is.Apparently we have some people making comments here who are blatantly trying to incite hatred for Ensign(must be someone working for the person who wants the seat).The Ensign Family are in the casino industry & Senator Ensign loves animals & is a Veterinarian. By the way, I am a Democrat.I know that Nevada cannot afford to have any unknowns or outsiders in the Senate.The bailed out bankers are upon us.Senator Ensign will fight for Nevada, he needs to know we are behind him!!!!

  7. John Ensign....the poster boy of Republican Hypocracy!

  8. @dipstick. I know, right? I sent that one to all my friends for today's funny. April, John might be your buddy and he might be kind to animals (I have no info one way or the other on that one) but he's a hypocrite and a liar. I won't be voting for him. I'll be happy when he goes back to being a veterinarian.

  9. Senator--put the people you respresent, your family and your country before yourself for a change, and resign today.

    The Senate has enough to do without the ethics investigation. The taxpayers are all ready overburdened and don't need the additional expense for the special counsel.

  10. April - Ensign is good 'family people'?????

    He has ruined his family and ruined the lives of his best friends, he has embarrassed his parents who had to pay his best friend off in hopes the story would be shuttered.

    If Ensign is good family people and that is your benchmark, you are way psychotic....

  11. April: Your arguments for Sen. John Ensign are laughable.

    Wasn't Ensign one of the people who backed President Bill Clinton's removal from office? I bet you that you were too?

    You neglect to mention that Ensign ran as a "family values" man and then cheated on his wife. So it's not just a private matter. He told the voters one thing and then violated the trust they had in him.

    He also lived with the Christian gang on C Street. These people have taken a hollier than though attitude while covering up their members' affairs.

    But far more serious is the cover-up of his affair. He had his parents pay nearly $100,000 to the husband of his mistress. I would call that silence money. Then Ensign tried to use his influence to get the husband a job. Not a cover-up.?

    So Ensign paretns are big figures in the caisno world. Does that mean their son can cheat on his wife and violate the law to cover it up?

    I don't know what you mean by local people? You mean to tell me Ensign is the only Nevadan qualified for the seat? Pardon me, but that is BS.

    Since I believe in full responsibility, I want to apologize for the too many typos in my first comment. I accidentally pushed the post comment command at a public computer that was about to shut down. I wish there was some way to get such a comment back for additional editing.

    I will be more cautious in the future.

  12. Gatorray11 you said all and I totally concur.

  13. I went to school with Ensign and briefly worked on some community projects with he and his wife in the '90s. April is right - they are nice people. But, so what? Nice doesn't cut it in this instance.

    If this was your run of the mill sex scandal, it still wouldn't be ordinary because it involves super-squeaky clean, family values, C-Street Christian man Ensign - who not only violated his own personal code of ethics but possibly committed a felony in the process.

    Jon is right when he says, "This is, despite what his apologists suggest, not a sex scandal. It is a sordid tale of rank hypocrisy in which a U.S. senator had an affair with one of his staffers who was his best friend's wife and his wife's best friend, who then had his parents pay $96,000 to as a "gift" and who tried to soothe his soul by finding employment for the cuckolded husband. It is, in a word, unimaginable."

    Ensign's wife Darlene deserves better than this - and so do the people of Nevada. Whatever the outcome of the Senate Ethics Committee, I doubt it will be as harsh as the judgment of Ensign's fellow Nevadans.