John Ensign Lied To FEC, Violated Campaign Finance Laws, Obstructed Investigation: Senate Ethics Panel

WASHINGTON -- Former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) violated campaign finance laws and conspired against lobbying laws while he was in office, leaders of the Senate Ethics Committee said on the floor of the upper chamber Thursday.

Ethics Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Vice Chair Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) announced the findings of the committee’s two-year investigation of Ensign, who resigned earlier this month. Although the Ethics Committee cannot punish Ensign directly, the committee referred its report to the Department of Justice, which may make a criminal charge.

If he were still in the Senate, Ensign could have been expelled from office based on the charges, a special counsel told Boxer.

In a 68-page report released to the public on Thursday, the Ethics Committee accused Ensign of breaking the law to cover up an affair with his former campaign aide, Cynthia Hampton. The aide and her husband, Doug Hampton, who also worked for Ensign, were fired in 2008. Doug Hampton then took a job as a lobbyist and accepted $96,000 from Ensign’s parents.

The Ethics Committee found that Ensign attempted to obscure a lobbying law that prohibits former aides, like Hampton, from lobbying their former bosses within a year of leaving work as a staffer. It also found evidence that the former senator made false statements to the Federal Election Commission and violated campaign finance laws, according to the report.

“It is a cautionary tale,” Boxer said Thursday. “It shows that our actions -- all of them -- have consequences."

"We must assure that every action we take is within the rules," she added. "In my personal view, it shows something else, which is that if you are in a position of trust and power, don’t abuse it, because people will get hurt.”

Among the details in the report:

  • ”The extramarital affair between Senator Ensign and Ms. Hampton began after the Hamptons moved into the Ensigns' home following” a burglary at their home.

  • ”Senator Ensign was very persistent and relentless in pursuing Ms. Hampton. According to Ms. Hampton, Senator Ensign ‘just [wouldn’t] stop,’ and ‘kept calling and calling,’ and ‘would never take no for an answer.’”
  • "Senator Ensign told Ms. Hampton that he wanted to marry her while they attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington."
  • In an effort to hide her identity, Ensign listed Ms. Hampton as "Aunt Judy " on his cell phone.
  • ”76 text messages were exchanged between Senator Ensign and Ms. Hampton from March 7, 2008 to March 10, 2008.”
  • Tim Coe spotted Ensign and Hampton’s cars in a hotel parking lot. He called Ensign and said “Put your pants on and go home.” Ensign said, “I can’t, I love her.”
  • Hampton said "Senator Ensign would place fictitious events on his schedule so he could meet with Ms. Hampton."
  • ”Senator Ensign permitted his staff to delete and replace his personal Gmail account containing emails related to Senate activities ... up to 174 emails may have been deleted following the issuance of the preservation notices.”
  • ”Mr. Hampton found out about the affair on December 23, 2007, while he and his wife were on the way to the airport to pick up their son for the holidays. Senator Ensign was in a separate car on the way to the airport to greet the Hamptons' son as well. ... Mr. Hampton ... viewed a text message from Senator Ensign to Ms. Hampton that made clear an affair was occurring. ... When the cars were parked in the airport parking lot, Mr. Hampton jumped out of his car and chased Senator Ensign in the airport parking lot.”
  • Ensign pressured contributors and constituents to hire Doug Hampton. When a “prominent” constituent declined, Ensign “instructed John Lopez, his Chief of Staff, to ‘jack him up to high heaven’ and inform the constituent that he was cut off from Senator Ensign."
  • Below, the report released on the Ensign investigation on Thursday.