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Ensign denies wrongdoing in job for ex-staffer

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.
/ Source: The Associated Press

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.

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.