Image: FILE - Ensign To Resign Senate Seat
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Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., listens during a hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee March 11, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
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updated 5/13/2011 2:24:23 PM ET 2011-05-13T18:24:23

Former Sen. John Ensign of Nevada broke federal law, made false statements to the Federal Election Commission and obstructed a Senate Ethics Committee's investigation into his conduct, the panel said Thursday in a scathing report that sent the matter to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.

The former Republican lawmaker "created a web of deceit that entangled and compromised numerous people," the committee said, adding that it had assembled enough evidence to warrant possible expulsion had Ensign not resigned.

Ensign quit May 3, one day before he was to have testified under oath about an affair with the wife of a top aide, the aide's subsequent lobbying of Ensign's office, and a payment from Ensign's parents to the one-time aide's family.

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The committee asked the FEC to conduct its own investigation, concluding that Ensign made false statements to the agency about the payment to the former aide's family.

The Senate committee hired former federal prosecutor Carol Elder Bruce to complete its investigation and relied on her findings in making the referrals to the Justice Department and FEC. Besides the legal issues, the committee revealed information about the affair itself, and efforts of those close to Ensign to get him to end it.

"The special counsel is confident that the evidence that would have been presented in an adjudicatory hearing would have been substantial and sufficient to warrant the consideration of the sanction of expulsion," the report said.

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The report added that while "concealment is part of the anatomy of an affair, the concealment conduct ... by Sen. Ensign exceeded the normal acts of discretion."

The Ethics Committee chairwoman, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., told the Senate in a speech: "When Sen. Ensign resigned he said, and I quote, 'I have not violated any law, rule or standard of conduct.' I want to go on record ... to say how strongly I disagree with that statement."

The Senate cannot punish someone who is no longer serving, but the referrals ensure that investigations of Ensign will go on for some time. His lawyers had announced last December that the Justice Department was no longer targeting him.

Investigation into $96,000, lobbying
Ensign has acknowledged an affair with Cynthia Hampton, a former campaign treasurer. She's the wife of Douglas Hampton, who was Ensign's administrative assistant.

One major focus of the investigation was the payment, by Ensign's parents, of $96,000 to the Hampton family. The committee concluded that Ensign and his parents made false or misleading statements to the FEC about the money, which amounted to severance payments to Cynthia and Douglas Hampton.

The committee also said the portion of the payment that was severance for Cynthia Hampton was an excessive and illegal campaign contribution because it exceeded federal limits.

The second major focus was Ensign's connection to Douglas Hampton's work as a lobbyist for two Nevada firms after he left Ensign's staff. Federal law prohibits a senior Senate aide from lobbying the Senate for one year after ending employment.

The report said Ensign conspired to violate the restriction, and aided and abetted Hampton's violations of the prohibition.

Beyond those conclusions, the committee said that Ensign deleted documents and files after he knew they were likely to be subject of legal proceedings; and committed sexual discrimination against Ms. Hampton while she was an employee of his campaign committee. The report said the affair was unwelcome to her, even though she eventually agreed to it.

Ensign lawyers Robert Walker and Abbe Lowell said in a statement that the former senator is "confused and disappointed that the committee would consider his case and issue its report without waiting for and considering our submission, which it received yesterday."

The statement also said: "The senator resigned just last week and we had asked the committee to allow a submission from us on several, obviously complicated issues. 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."

Ensign has admitted and apologized for his conduct, according to the statement, but "this is not the same as agreeing that he did or intended to violate any laws or rules."

'I can't, I love her'
The committee didn't hold back in revealing some aspects of Ensigns' affair. The Hamptons and the Ensigns had been longtime friends before the relationship began.

"Sen. Ensign told Ms. Hampton that he wanted to marry her while they attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington," the report revealed.

The day before Christmas 2007, the Hamptons went to the Ensigns' home and both the senator and Cynthia Hampton said the affair would stop. The senator wept and apologized. The couples, with their children, then celebrated Christmas together, the report said.

But the affair did not end.

On Feb. 16, 2008, a spiritual adviser to Ensign was called by Douglas Hampton, who had spotted the senator's car and Ms. Hampton's car at a hotel close to the Hamptons' neighborhood.

The report said that the adviser called the senator and told him: "I know exactly where you are. I know exactly what you are doing. Put your pants on and go home."

Ensign, the report said, replied, "I can't, I love her."

Douglas Hampton has been indicted on charges of lobbying Ensign and his staff in violation of the one-year prohibition. He has pleaded not guilty.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Report: Ensign broke federal law

  1. Closed captioning of: Report: Ensign broke federal law

    >>> the senate ethics committee has done its job. bipartisan unanimous, a vert dict on john ensign and it is scathing. the committee's report unmasks the efforts of a secretive religious group called the family involved with ensign and his senate colleagues. joining us now is the host of "the rachel maddow show" on msnbc, rachel maddow . you have dug into this more deeply than anyone i know. and it is a coming together of some of the most nefarious, the underbelly of this thing. where do you put it all together? i don't even know where to start. it is bipartisan and unanimous, and it is really one of those experiences of what government does right, what congress does well.

    >> this is one of those reports sort of like the 9/11 commission report or the -- even the starr report that for any -- whatever its political implications, one thing about how it is going to resonate is that it just is a really good read. it reads like a hollywood screenplay. and as you mention, it is sordid. you get a lot of detail about john ensign being chased around in airport parking lot by the husband of the woman that he is sleeping with, john ensign methodically popping wheat thins into his mouth and seeming disinterested when he's confronted by political allies who he has betrayed by essentially lying to them about this affair and ensnaring them in the cover-up. you have his chief of staff saying that he knows what he's doing is wrong, he's lying to the "new york times," lying to people asking about this as he becomes involved, but he's doing it to -- in order to cover up for senator ensign. he's now only coming clean because he's been offered immunity. the details are cinematic and riveting and it is just -- it is fascinating. but the substantive new thing we have got from this ethics committee report is that this was just so much worse than we thought it was. on the personal level, on the sort of human level, the woman who john ensign was sleeping with did not want to be sleeping with him. felt pressured into it, felt absolutely like she had no option for not continuing the affair because her family was 100% financially dependent on ensign. it is a brutal case of sexual harassment as portrayed by the ethics committee .

    >> and he was even paying her kids' tuition, which he then cut off after the affair was broken off.

    >> that's right.

    >> school tuition.

    >> he was employing her. he was employing her husband. he was helping with the mortgage payments on the house they could not afford, so they could live near him in nevada. they subsequently lost their house. he was paying private school tuition for their kids, he subsequently cut that off. the money issue and the sexual harassment issue in this is just chilling. substantively on policy matters, what we didn't know before the report came out yesterday, not only did john ensign set up the husband of the woman he was sleeping with, he responded to the illegal lobbying and took official action to benefit that illegal lobbyist who he was setting up in that position to cover up his affair. it is a very, very bad story about john ensign .

    >> a lot of lives ruined. it has been referred to the justice department . do we expect that the justice department will now take some action?

    >> there is new information here that seems to supplant what the justice department had previously looked at when they had concluded that john ensign would no longer be a focus of their investigation. more critically, the first thing that may happen is the federal election commission may act. the damming information about ensign potentially breaking election commission laws by paying severance to this man and woman who he fired after the affair, that is some of the most detailed and damming information here. he may have implicated his own parents in having made false statements in signed legal depositions that the ethics commission , the special council says that john ensign 's council never even talked to his parents before writing statements in their name and having them sign them. they turned out to be false statements. when questioned about them, they denied all the facts they had attested to in the signed documents. he may have dragged his parents into legal jeopardy with his staff, himself and the family whose lives he ruined.

    >> he did this all while living on c street house and under the cover of religion, the so-called family, the group.

    >> the c street connection here is, forgive the phrase, but sort of disgusting. c street is purportedly this religious group that is about the moral behavior of its members. what c street was involved in doing here including senator tom coburn is they were trying to keep the affair from coming to light. the hampton family was threatening to go public with this because they had been ruined by john ensign and were going to go public with it. part of the plan for keeping it secret was to engineer some sort of soft landing for the hampton family, a big payout to them, a job for mr. hampton certainly, possibly mrs. hampton . that's what the family was trying to arrange. tom coburn , senator tom coburn , mr. ostentatiously pious himself is out on his lawn mower on a weekend taking calls from a lawyer of the hampton family trying to get a better deal on the pay jouout that he's going to make to them. for a group that wants to be seen as a sort of moral center in washington, it's gross.

    >> rachel maddow , as only you can tell a story. watch rachel tonight and every week night at 9:00 eastern only on msnbc. thanks so much, rachel.

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