Video: Ethics violation in Ensign affair?

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    >>> now back to "hardball."

    >>> let's get some reporting here. welcome back to "hardball." more fallout to report over nevada senator john ensign 's affair with the wife of a former aide, doug hampton . "the new york times" reports that he helped get a job for him that may ban on lobbying. you're not posed to work as a lobbyist for a year. apparently the senator helped him set up for just that. and the ethics committee is investigating him for allegations of improper conduct along those lines. eric broke the story for the "new york times" today. and lisa, thank you for joining us. she is the washington correspondent for the las vegas sun . you're up on the hill. eric is with me. let me go to eric now. what has he done wrong legally? the senator?

    >> what the fbi will be looking at is whether or not this was in effect, a concerted effort, a could not smearcy even by the senator and by his former aide.

    >> hush money.

    >> you could call it that.

    >> in order to conceal this affair by getting income into doug hampton 's hands, by creating lobbying jobs for him and intervening.

    >> was he helping this guy out for good will or because he felt the guy could extort something from him?

    >> that's a good question. i think it might be a little bit of both. when you say good will, they have been best friends for the better part of 20 years. there was certainly the threat of exposure because he is having an affair with doug hampton 's wife, their wives were good friends.

    >> not to get too much into the hanky panky but it is part of the story. how long did the senator ensign have the affair with mrs. hampton and mr. hampton didn't know about it?

    >> he found out about it pretty soon. we believe it is within a month or two.

    >> of it starting?

    >> yes. the problem was that it continued even after senator ensign said he was going to brakt off.

    >> so in the face of his staffer, he was having an affair.

    >> yeah. he was confront by his colleagues.

    >> and the guy's wife was living with him?

    >> yeah.

    >> he was having an affair with the guy while the guy and the wife were living together.

    >> yeah. the affair went on for eight months.

    >> unbelievable. the whole story of the hanky panky into the corrupt potential criminality of covering this up by using your office to get lobbying jobs and then allowing the guy to lobby you, which seem to me, a circle of love that might just be illegal.

    >> yeah. chris, it has really been interesting because senator ensign really was on the way, i think, to trying to put this whole issue behind him. he made this big tour of nevada this summer during the congressional break. he's been very active on the senate finance committee as they deal with health care . and we were just starting to write stories that didn't have the words in it. senator ensign, who earlier this year disclosed an affair. we were just sort of moving on from that.

    >> you were almost dropping the boilerplate.

    >> and then i think the first story we wrote was last weekend. and then this emerges with much more serious allegations than what we had seen earlier. i was talking to one ethics expert who said it really confirms a lot of what, if true, a lot of allegations that they had been concerned that earlier. but in a more serious nature because of the one-year lobby ban. so we'll have to see where this goes for him.

    >> the old journalism has been sex plus. there has to be something besides just hanky panky . there has to be a staffer involved, somebody that works with you, a workplace issue, perhaps lobbying going on. that violates the public trustful to get to the heart of the potential criminality. if you get a job for somebody who is a lobbyist, you are certainly breaking the ethics laws and maybe filing a false claim. going further forecast you then allow the guy, in this case, a male, to come in as a longyist. somebody has an interest in your office and thin let them lobby for that person, you are giving away your service as senator for pay.

    >> well, it's what the justice department in past cases has call the denial of honest services. the idea that your constituency isn't the people in your state but someone you have a financial relationship with.

    >> this may be the case against blaggo in illinois too. let me first read to you the senator's statement. in all fairness to hill. i am confident we fully complied with the relevant laws and rule governing current and past employees. i have worked on these nevada issues with these nevada company for years, long before doug hampton left my office . the cover story there, true or not, lisa, is that he allowed himself to be lobbied by these guys long before he got this guy a job working for them.

    >> right. and i think someone else told me today, has the real tangled mess that really would sort of need a lot of explaining to sort out. and eric mentioned the services fraud issue. that certainly is one thing that we've heard about. and then another criminal defense lawyer told me today, the one-year lobby ban. it is sitting right there. if a prosecutor wanted to go the easy route. that would be an easy route to go if it is extra, you know.

    >> let's take a look. this is doug hampton . he said he and the senator ensign chose to ignore the lobbying ban. you can't lobby your old boss for a year. he said the only way the clients could get what john was essentially promising they will, which was access, was if i still had a way to work with his office and john knew that. how did that work?

    >> well, there became an issue of concern within ensign's office from the start after ensign left the employment. and the chief of staff went to him and that, we may have a problem here in effect. and according to both doug hampton and the chief of staff, ensign's directions were to have the chief of staff work directly with ensign. i'm sorry. work directly with doug hampton .

    >> what do you mean?

    >> it's an odd way of dealing with the problem. doug hampton saw that.

    >> let him lobby as a senator.

    >> that's what investigators will have to look at. doug hampton 's interpretation was that this was the go-to guy.

    >> anybody who knows a bit about the hill knows to lobby the chief of staff is to lobby the senator. there's no way to say you're skirting the law. you are violating it. you figure he is a confidential relationship with you and he won't tell the prosecutors.

    >> and we published all sorts of interesting e-mail between doug hampton and the senator where doug hampton is getting increasingly restless about this odd relationship they had and saying you promised me clients. you promised three clients. i said i would leave your office to save your career. now i'm looking at financial ruin. you haven't lived up to your end of the bargain. it is the relationship between these two guys.

    >> why are people so unhirable? now, this guy was kuk olded by his boss. he has reason to be worried about it. why doesn't he go away and get a really job in a real part of american enterprise ? why does he have to be a barnicle on this guy's butt? explain.

    >> why doesn't he go away?

    >> we asked him that very question. his feeling was that he had put a lot of his time and life into john's career. he had moved from southern california at john ensign 's qux he had joined his staff. he had hitched his wagon to him. and that john ensign owed him a debt of obligation. he was giving up a career in the senate because his wife was having an affair with the senator.

    >> why didn't he go work for another senator?

    >> he felt that john ensign owed him rest at this to do in effect, and may even consider --

    >> so his moral way of looking at it thrg guy had a relationship, a sexual relationship with my wife. therefore he owes me and he will pay me out of the public till.

    >> i don't know if he would look at it quite that way but certainly, that's how this all ended up.

    >> this goes back -- let me tell you, this goes back to the sense that people get elected to office , some of them, look at public office as an opportunity to take. that they have possessions there, assets sitting in the office and they want to sell them. or use them. thank you for this story. it is not pretty but it does help people decide had a to vote for. thank you. thank you from the las vegas sun .

updated 10/6/2009 4:59:57 PM ET 2009-10-06T20:59:57

Sen. John Ensign said Tuesday that he will not resign, even as a watchdog group raised questions about whether he improperly tried to appease his mistress' husband with a lobbying job and made phone calls on behalf of the man's clients.

"No," he told The Associated Press, when asked if he intended to resign. "I've been saying that all day."

Indeed, reporters have trailed the embattled Nevada Republican all over the Capitol complex during a busy day of Senate business, amid a sex-and-influence scandal that has spawned a preliminary ethics committee inquiry and lots of questions about the two-term senator's conduct.

The swirl intensified this week after the New York Times reported new details about the aftermath of his 2008 affair with former campaign aide Cynthia Hampton, the wife of Ensign's former chief of staff, Doug. The couple left the senator's staff in May 2008 but the affair continued three more months.

No statements of support
The questions surround Ensign's efforts to find Doug Hampton a job as a lobbyist, whether either of the two men had contact in violation of a federal one-year ban on lobbying and whether the senator illegally tried to influence Hampton's clients.

Senate Republicans have refused to issue any statement of support for their embattled colleague.

"I have helped staff, recommended them for jobs, just like I did for Doug Hampton," Ensign told the AP. "I have recommended countless number of staff over the years and I did it the same way I did it with him."

Asked whether he was under any pressure from his GOP colleagues to step down, Ensign replied, "Nope."

Ensign is dealing with such questions as a nonpartisan government watchdog group has filed more details to its complaints against him.

Citing new details about Ensign's conduct revealed by the New York Times last week, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a letter to the ethics committee and the FBI alleging that Ensign helped Hampton violate a one-year lobbying ban and illegally advocated on behalf of Hampton's clients.

"He has proved himself to be a philandering criminal disguised as a U.S. senator," said CREW's Executive Director Melanie Sloan. She said the committee should also investigate the role Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., played in negotiations between Ensign and the Hamptons for a financial payment of restitution to the couple.

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Coburn told the Times that he acted as a middleman in financial negotiations between Ensign and Hampton.

Steps down from leadership post
Ensign, trailed by reporters around the Capitol complex during a busy day of Senate business, denied any wrongdoing and promised to cooperate with any investigations of the matter.

Ensign has stepped down from his Republican leadership post. He would not say whether the Justice Department had tried to contact him or his lawyer regarding any criminal investigation.

Several Republican senators said Ensign attended the caucus' weekly policy lunch Tuesday and spoke to the group about health care reform. The scandal, several said, did not come up in the closed-door session.

Ensign's one-time presidential ambitions imploded this summer after disclosures about the affair — including reports of his own efforts to hide it by finding a consulting and lobbying job for Hampton and making phone calls on behalf of Hampton's clients.

Federal criminal law prohibits congressional aides from lobbying their ex-bosses or office colleagues for one year after departing their jobs on the Hill.

Ensign did not deny having spoken with Hampton within the one-year limit. The law, Ensign said, "doesn't mean you don't talk to them. You can talk to anybody."

The law prohibits talking about clients and their interests.

"Oh I never met with Doug Hampton about any of that stuff," Ensign told CNN.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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