Published Thursday, June 7, 2012 | 8 a.m.
Updated Thursday, June 7, 2012 | 10:37 a.m.
Doug Hampton pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor Thursday morning for breaking a rule requiring former congressional aides to refrain from lobbying their bosses for at least a year after departing a lawmaker’s office.
Hampton, a former senior aide to then-Sen. John Ensign, entered the misdemeanor plea in lieu of a felony charge on the first of seven counts against him in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. He faces a sentence of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $100,000, plus processing charges.
As part of the plea deal, the government agreed to drop the other six charges and will not seek any jail time as part of the sentence, though the judge, Beryl Howelll, retains the right to sentence him to jail if she sees fit.
The judge also could order Hampton to pay restitution, if she determines there are victims of his actions who should be paid.
Howell won’t deliver a sentence until Sept. 5.
Hampton will remain free until then. He will be subject to a series of meetings with parole officers as they draw up a presentencing report for the judge.
Hampton started to run afoul of the law after he learned that his wife, Cynthia Hampton, had been carrying on an affair with his best friend and boss, former senator John Ensign. As Ensign attempted to keep the scandal from going public and still get the Hamptons out of his employ, he worked to help Hampton secure lobbying contracts, including for Nevada-based Allegiant Air.
According to a Senate Ethics Committee report from last year that documented what followed, Hampton began exchanging lobbying-type communications with Ensign before he was even fully off the Senate payroll — and the Ethics committee concluded that in fact, Ensign and Hampton had intended from the start that Hampton would use his leverage with Ensign to lobby his former boss on behalf of the new clients without regard for the legal restrictions.
Ensign left Congress at the height of the scandal, but the Justice Department never charged him with any wrongdoing — it’s only been Hampton who has had to face a legal reckoning, for the last year and a half, for breaking the cooling-off period rule on lobbying.
Hampton and his lawyer A.J. Kramer looked relaxed and composed during the plea hearing, as Hampton pled guilty to breaking “the post-employment restrictions for a former Senate staff member” and stated that he had knowingly communicated with Ensign’s office as a lobbyist after less than one year following the termination of his employment with the senator, “with the intent to influence” political decision-making.
Hampton asserted several times during the proceeding that he fully understood the significance of the pleas, and added he was “absolutely” satisfied with his representation during the case.
But he and his lawyer were more tight-lipped than usual as they exited the courtroom, declining to answer reporters’ questions about the deal or offer any reaction to the morning’s hearing.
Though his case is almost over, this is in many ways the most nerve-wracking part of the proceedings for Hampton. His plea of guilty and his admission that he illegally lobbied Ensign with full knowledge of his actions is final -- with it, he gave up all rights to appeal, to petition a jury, or have any recourse against the judge’s next steps, provided she stays within the confines of the law in issuing her sentence.
“You have no right to withdraw your plea just because your sentence may be more sever than you would have liked,” Judge Howell reminded Hampton on Thursday.
Without the government seeking a tough sentence, however -- and considering that Hampton has no criminal history -- it’s likely he will avoid jail time.