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September 22, 2014

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The Policy Racket

Ethics panel chairwoman: ‘Reason to believe that Ensign violated laws’

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Steve Marcus

John Ensign announces he will not seek another term during a news conference at the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas on Monday, March 7, 2011.

Updated Thursday, May 12, 2011 | 3:37 p.m.

Ethics report

Sun reporter Karoun Demirjian talks to KSNV about the Senate Ethics Committee report on former Sen. John Ensign, May 12, 2011.

Face to Face

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Senate Ethics Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is pursued by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 12, 2011, after speaking on the Senate floor about former Nevada Sen. John Ensign.

Doug Hampton interview - July 2009

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WASHINGTON - He may be gone from the Senate, but John Ensign hasn’t been forgotten.

Senate Ethics Committee members announced Thursday they had voted unanimously to release the committee’s final report about their investigation into Ensign’s actions surrounding and stemming from his affair with a campaign staffer, and refer their findings to the Justice Department and Federal Elections Commission.

"We have reason to believe that Senator Ensign violated laws within their jurisdictions," said committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. “These findings are so disturbing ... that had Senator Ensign not resigned, and had we been able to proceed to that adjudication, that the evidence of Senator Ensign’s wrongdoing would have been substantial enough to warrant the consideration of expulsion, the harshest penalty available to the committee and the Senate.

“That’s why when former Senator Ensign resigned, the vice chairman and I put out a statement, and we said the he made, quote, ‘the appropriate decision,'” Boxer said.

“No one in public office volunteers for the type of responsibilities that we have had in the case of Senator Ensign, but all of us took that responsibility when it came upon us,” said committee Vice Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. “As sad as the deliberations were and the ultimate result was, it was proof that this Senate and its Ethics Committee can stand up and do the effort necessary to see to it this institution’s integrity proceeds in the future, uninhibited and unendangered.”

The committee’s report is the culmination of a 22 month-long investigation, in which the committee deposed or interviewed 72 witnesses, issued 32 subpoenas for documents and reviewed more than 500,000 documents. It was written under the direction of Carol Elder Bruce, who was appointed to serve as special counsel on the Ensign investigation in early February.

The report is 75 pages, but the heart of it boils down to eight essential findings based on “substantial, credible evidence” that Boxer read on the Senate floor, reprinted here as they were read:

1. that Ensign conspired to violate Doug Hampton’s post-employment contact plan.

2. that Ensign aided and abetted Doug Hampton’s violation of the post-employment contact ban.

3. that Ensign made false and misleading statements to the Federal Election Commission regarding the $96,000 payment made to the Hamptons.

4. that the $96,000 payment to Hampton violated federal campaign finance laws.

5. that Ensign violated a law and a Senate rule prohibiting unofficial office accounts.

6. that Ensign permitted spoilation of documents and engaged in potential obstruction of justice.

7. that Ensign discriminated on the basis of gender.

8. that Ensign engaged in improper conduct reflecting on the Senate, including violating his own office policies written in a manual.

“When Senator Ensign resigned, he said, and I quote: ‘I have not violated any law, any rule or a standard of conduct.’ I want to go on record as Chairman of the Ethics committee to say how strongly I disagree with that statement,” Boxer said.

“This committee believes every senator should read this report very carefully because it is a cautionary tale,” she continued. “It shows that our actions, all of them, have consequences for ourselves, for our families, for our staffs, for Congress and for our nation ... and in my view, my own personal view, it shows something else.

“And that is when you are in a position of trust and power, don’t abuse it. Don’t misuse it. Because people can get hurt,” she said. “Very, very hurt.”

The release of the report brings the Senate Ethics Committee's investigation to a close.

Lawyers for Ensign said "he is confused and disappointed" that the committee released its report on the same day they said they delivered a submission to the committee that ought to have been considered.

"Given his resignation and announcement that he was not running for re-election, there does not seem to be any real reason for a rush to create a report that did not fully consider our submission and which did not allow us to follow up on any remaining issues," wrote attorneys Robert L. Walker and Abbe D. Lowell of Wiley Rein, LLP, a Washington D.C. law firm representing Ensign.

"Senator Ensign has admitted and apologized for his conduct and imposed on himself the highest sanction of resignation," they added. "But this is not the same as agreeing that he did or intended to violate any laws or rules, and this submission demonstrates that there is a lot more to the issues than the Committee's report indicates."

Paul Coggins, an attorney with the Dallas firm of Fish & Richardson, which is also representing Ensign, added Thursday that he was "confident that the Department of Justice will conclude that Senator Ensign fully complied with the law."

It remains to be seen what the Justice Department and the Federal Elections Commission will do with the recommendation that they pursue legal action against Ensign on the basis of the Ethics Committee's report. Both the DOJ and the FEC were investigating Ensign previously, but elected to close their investigations at the end of last year.

Ensign's lawyers and his Senate office, which is still winding down its operations, did not immediately return requests for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Ensign has been dodging public scrutiny since mid-June 2009, when he announced that he had been having an affair with a campaign staffer, Cynthia Hampton -- who was the wife of his chief of staff, Doug Hampton.

The Hamptons no longer work for Ensign; shortly after the revelation of the affair, Ensign's parents paid their family $96,000, and Ensign helped Doug Hampton get a job as a lobbyist. That didn't go so well for him in the long term: Doug Hampton was recently indicted in a federal court in Washington, D.C., for allegedly breaking Congress' sunset laws on lobbying, which say that a former congressional staffer must wait at least a year before they begin to lobby Congress. He didn't.

The Ethics Committee's investigation is the most severe legal sanction Ensign has faced for his actions, although that may worsen if the Justice Department reopens its investigation. Justice Department charges, if they stick, can carry fines and/or jail time.

To date, Ensign's punishments have been political.

Two years ago, Ensign was a star ascendant in the GOP. His name was even being tossed around to make a potential dark horse presidential bid to challenge Obama in 2012.

Those aspirations were dashed in the aftermath of his affair, but it's only been in recent months that the real political price of his scandal has become clear.

Even after the Justice Department and the FEC dropped their investigations of him, the Senate ethics panel kept ramping up -- and, it appears, so did the political pressure on Ensign to step aside. In March, he announced that he would not be seeking to retain his seat in 2012, calling off a re-election campaign that was already months underway. Then last month, he announced that he'd be resigning the Senate, effective May 3. Gov. Brian Sandoval appointed now-former Second Congressional District Rep. Dean Heller to fill the seat; Heller was sworn in as Nevada's 25th U.S. senator on Monday.

Ensign was scheduled to be deposed by Ethics committee investigators on May 4th and 5th, hence, the effective date of his resignation. It would have been the final deposition in the Ethics Committee's investigation.

Even after Ensign's departure, the Ethics Committee was not required to investigate Ensign. But the ultimate sanction available to the committee, if it did launch official charges and find Ensign guilty, is recommending an impeachment trial in which the Senate might vote to oust him from the body. While there's still something to be said for the weight of such a censure -- and it appears the committee believes such a censure would have been warranted -- the process would have been both expensive and pragmatically moot, since Ensign already left his Senate seat.

The Senate Ethics Committee is a six-person, bipartisan panel, equally weighted between Democrats and Republicans. In addition to Chairman Boxer and Vice-Chairman Isakson, the senators who voted unanimously to recommend the release of the report and the recommendation for legal action to the DOJ were Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Republicans Pat Roberts of Kansas and Jim Risch of Idaho. Cardin, Brown, and Roberts joined Boxer and Isakson to announce the committees final censure of Ensign on the Senate floor.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who represented Nevada in the Senate along with Ensign for the entirety of the former Senator's decade-long tenure in the body, said the senator would not be commenting on the Ethics Committee's report.

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  1. Maddow on MSNBC did a segment on why the National Media did not give the Ensign story more play. Look at Rangel or Waters and the attention given there.

    "Fair and Balanced" FOX Hannity (who some say cheats veterans families with his association with an Iran-Contra Figure Ollie North Charity)and O'Reilly (involved in sexual harassment scandal) hardly mentioned the Ensign affair.

    Look at all the attention they gave to a rapper attending a White House event based on one quote in a song.

    I would like to see if NV Power or Allegiant hurt consumers or competitors as a result of the make work jobs given to the Ensign Klan.

    Waters, Rangel, Common, what to they have in "Common?"

  2. Also, Ensign should not have his veterinarian licence renewed (Currently inactive) for moral turpitude. It expires the end of this year.

    He does not meet the ethics requirement and I would not want him touching a pet pot belly pig.

    https://www.nvvetboard.us/glsuiteweb/cli...

  3. "The Ethics Committee doesn't have to drop its investigation of Ensign just because he's no longer a sitting senator."

    I TOTALLY agree with this. Go after him. And make sure he knows it. I want him sweating heavily with worry that he may end up in a high desert prison next to O.J. Simpson.

    I'm not sure what kind of warped thinking is going on here. This has nothing to do with party politics. This man, who was supposedly a family values and well respected official, has CLEARLY done things wrong and there is clear validity he had his grubby mitts all over some form of corruption, involvement in improprieties of office and/or has participated in clearcut criminal behavior. AND THE MAN WALKS AWAY LIKE HE'S A FRIGGIN' HERO OR SOMETHIN'!!!! He doesn't even get his hair mussed up, a slap on the wrist, reprimanded verbally nor does someone get to slap him in the back of the head to remind him he is criminally stupid.

    I mean, c'mon.... I can't be the only one crying for some kind of justice. We don't vote people into office to do stupid felonious acts just so we watch them walk away without any repercussions and/or justice from their acts. I am simply amazed and horrified at this whole debacle which is basically a miscarriage of justice on the highest order. If he walks, then this sends a clearcut message that politicians can basically do whatever the hell they want whenever they want, not only to taxpayers of Nevada, but to the entire American populace as well.

    "Doug Hampton has already been brought up on federal charges for failing to comply with the congressional sunset rule about former staffers: after leaving Ensign's office he started working as a lobbyist within less than a year, a serious no-no in the rulebooks on congressional ethics. He's been indicted, and next appears in district court in Washington, D.C. on July 1."

    Ah ha! Here's the silver lining in the cloud.

    I make a prediction. Mr. Hampton will turn State's evidence and, in promise for his cooperation, there WILL be criminal charges against the former disgusting and disgraced Senator from Nevada.

    I really do hope so. We at least need to see a perp walk in handcuffs and here him whine and cry about his innocence and why people are picking on him and, by the way, can he take his favorite hair gel with him while he's waiting for bail?

    I sound vindictive and am calling for all the villagers in a Frankenstein movie to get out their pitchforks and torches or something, but C'MON! Wake up! Something clearly happened here. And whatever the hell happened was wrong and this clown was an embarassment for every voter in Nevada, no matter what side of the aisle. AND THE GUY WALKS SCOTT FREE?!?!?! And cries crocodile tears. Unbelievable. I guess it can only happen in Nevada.

  4. Even a "euthanasia technician" or a "veterinarian technician" has a requirement of moral and ethical behavior. Ensign's Vet's license expires 12/31/2011. If he applies to renew it, I know of someone who will oppose that. (me)

  5. http://media.lasvegassun.com/media/pdfs/...

    Just read 10 pages... 10 through 20.

    Our junior Senator was lying to his wife, his parents, his staff, his friends, his spiritual advisor, creating fake email addresses, buying numerous cell phones, being chased around a parking lot, crying and sobbing like a lovelorn teenager...

    Not to mention it goes into depth on the discussion of the $96,000, how Ensign had conversations on how to structure it to evade detection and taxes, how Senator Coburn was in direct talks with Ensign's parents AND Doug Hampton, etc...

    But most of all, how did this saga escape the attention of Nevada's media for so long?

  6. Geez, yet another Elmer Gantry chapter in history.

    But Ensign is a special case for me. He is a member of what is called The Family.

    Check out "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power."

    Dating back to 1935, it is one of the most influential groups in Washington, working quietly behind the scenes.

    Ensign, along with Gov. Mark "Hiking the Appalachian Trail" Sanford, are two of the Holier-Than-Thou -- do as we say, not as we do -- God is a Republican types in the Family.

    Why are Christian fundamentalists, who want to control our lives, incapable of controlling their zippers?

  7. Kevin S mentioned the distinguished Senator from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn.

    Coburn has claimed doctor-patient relationship to avoid describing his discussions with Ensign during the scandal.

    Coburn is an OB GYN -- I can only imagine what OB GYN problems Ensign was having.

  8. This took 22 months??? Doesn't seem to me like he is the only one acting badly. Its not like its a death sentence case what took 22 months?

  9. I'm simply amazed. This crap has been going on with this His Most Pond Scummedness for twenty-two months.

    Twenty-two months!

    And still nothing is being done. Or even any hint of something getting started. Hell, arrest him or give him an award. DO SOMETHING!

    If I did HALF the crap Ensign did, Las Vegas Metro Police would be on me so fast handcuffing me that my head would spin. And I'd have been slammed in the hoosegow to never, ever see the light of day ever again.

    What makes Ensign untouchable?

    I'm getting the impression this guy could go out in broad daylight naked in the middle of Tropicana/Las Vegas Boulevard intersection with a chain saw butchering a live cow while reciting "Mein Kampf"....and they'd let him slide.

    "Oh. That's John Ensign. He's like that. He's pond scum, but he was a former Senator of Nevada. So we can't touch him. Because EVERYONE knows that when you're the Senator of Nevada, you can basically do anything and get away with it. So, it's a waste of time to try. And besides that, he's John Ensign. And no one messes with John Ensign. We're skeeeeeeeeeered of him....."

    BULLCRAP!

    Thank God for Ms. Melanie Sloan from CREW. She's the one that urged investigation of this whole sordid business. And she would not take no for an answer from anyone in power in Washington DC until someone lifted a finger somewhere to do something. Because it was clear there was something wrong.

    I get the impression if that call wasn't made, Ensign would be boffing the entire cast of "Peep Show" at Planet Hollywood and declaring as an excuse Senatorial privilege or some other dumb, nonsensical excuse.

    Politics in Nevada really, really confuses me. Seems like it don't matter what you do with your vote, as a constituent, you are guaranteed you are going to get screwed in the whole process. And whoever you voted for can do whatever they want whenever they want without any fear of criminal prosecution.

    I repeat....

    Somebody do something. Just because this knucklehead was a Senator don't make him sacrosanct and untouchable. Do something, damnit.

  10. Now we know the rest of the story. I knew John Ensign was and is a man whose words were not true.

    Senator Ensign was not honest in written correspondence to this constituent to help with a problem in the Nevada Mining Industry.

    It is very hard to forgive someone that is in a position to help a constituent right a wrong, who says he(Ensign)will help and then goes off chasing another mans wife and follows-up sending this constituent correspondence that is 100% crap.

    John Ensign and jail time, sound like a good fit, at the very least Mr Ensign needs to renounce ALL federal benefits as Mr Ensign simply has not earned the privileges an honorable public servant deserves.

    Would you let this man that is lower than a snakes belly in a wagon wheel's rut touch your pet? No Thanks

    Paul Rupp B125 SP NV 89047

  11. Where are the right wingers? How come I do not see comments from them? I'd like to hear their spin this time: Gogo? Gibbons? Rejecto? Roseannadanna? Mr. Boston? All of you. Come out, come out, come out!

  12. ksand & mofftfields are right on the mark...

    How in the WORLD does this get such little play in Nevada?
    In most states, this story would have been delved into from every conceivable angle and reported breathlessly to readers EVERY SINGLE DAY, probably with special series like those the Sun has done so well on other topics...
    Hmmmm, could it possibly be that the 2 LARGEST PAPERS IN THE STATE are right-wing controlled printers of party-affiliated PABLUM???