A watchdog group says it will file a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee asking lawmakers to investigate the circumstances surrounding an affair that Sen. John Ensign had with a campaign aide.
Ensign, R-Nev., acknowledged last week that he was involved in a sexual relationship from December 2007 through August 2008. The aide was identified by her attorney as Cindy Hampton, who had worked for two Ensign political groups.
After spending the last six days in Nevada, Ensign returned to Washington on Monday. He entered his Senate office in mid-afternoon, declining to take questions from reporters.
Officials at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said they would ask lawmakers to investigate the source and amount of any severance payments to Hampton. They also said they would ask the committee to investigate whether her departure was voluntary from positions with his Battle Born Political Action Committee and Ensign for Senate.
Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, cited a letter from Cynthia Hampton's husband, Doug, as one reason the case needed investigation. Doug Hampton, a former top aide in Ensign's Senate office, said the senator's conduct "led to our dismissal in April of 2008."
Such a dismissal would have violated a Senate rule that bars employment discrimination, Sloan said.
It will likely be Wednesday before her group files its complaint with the Ethics Committee, Sloan said. She said the complaint is necessary because senators have shown little enthusiasm in the past for conducting sex-related investigations involving colleagues.
Sloan also questioned Ensign's explanation for acknowledging the affair several months after it had ended. Ensign's office said he disclosed the affair after learning that a TV reporter had been approached about it.
Last Friday, Ensign's office said an attorney for Doug Hampton had made "exorbitant demands for cash and other financial benefits."
An aide with the Senate Ethics Committee declined to comment on whether the committee was conducting an inquiry concerning Ensign.
On the Senate floor during a vote on a tourism bill, several lawmakers took time to speak with Ensign.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., talked with Ensign for several minutes and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., gave him a quick embrace. Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama patted Ensign's hand. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, shook Ensign's hand, and the two stood side-by-side for about a minute in silence as the vote continued.
A few Democratic lawmakers also spoke briefly to Ensign. After the vote, the Nevada Republican avoided a throng of reporters waiting outside the chamber.