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The Policy Racket

Senate Ethics Committee appoints special counsel in John Ensign case

Updated Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011 | 12:01 p.m.

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John Ensign

As Sen. John Ensign takes steps in Washington today to shore up his re-election campaign, the Senate Ethics Committee is taking a step that signals it's still moving forward with an inquiry that could tank his 2012 run.

The Senate Ethics Committee announced Tuesday it has appointed a special counsel as part of its preliminary inquiry into allegations that Ensign misused his power, money and influence as a U.S. senator to cover up an affair he had with a campaign aide who was also the wife of one of his closest advisers.

Carol Elder Bruce comes from the K&L Gates law firm's Washington, D.C., office, where she specialized in "white collar criminal defense, complex civil litigation, and congressional investigations" according to a statement released by the Ethics Committee.

A preliminary inquiry is not an indictment; the result of an inquiry could be anything from dropping allegations to pursuing charges. Ensign shook off other investigations at the end of last year, including an inquiry by the Department of Justice, and a petition made to the Federal Elections Commission, which they declined to pursue.

But the appointment of a special counsel seems a clear sign that the Ethics Committee has no intention of dropping the case anytime soon.

Ensign's lawyer in the Senate Ethics Inquiry, Robert Walker, said the announcement that the committee had hired a new counsel barely changes anything.

"The Senate Ethics Committee has assured Senator Ensign that their inquiry remains in the preliminary stage and that the appointment of a special counsel does not change the course of its inquiry," he said "Senator Ensign is confident that he complied with all ethics rules and laws, and he is hopeful that this appointment will lead to a more speedy resolution of this matter."

Walker added that Ensign's office plans to continue to cooperate with the inquiry process.

Ensign, whose name was once being tossed about for a presidential run, ran aground politically in 2009, when he announced he had had an affair with Cynthia Hampton, a campaign aide whose husband, Doug Hampton, had been Ensign deputy chief of staff.

Ensign's parents paid the Hamptons and their two children $96,000, and Ensign allegedly assisted Doug Hampton in finding alternate employment -- moves that may have broken Senate rules.

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  1. Ensign's infidelity and subsequent payment to his mistress' family are separate issues and should be treated as such. It is not a federal crime to have an affair. Whether or not a crime was committed when he gave the Hamptons that money remains to be seen.

    But in the eyes of the community, Ensign's career is over. If someone like Ensign would have an affair for a year; lie about it, cheat about it, and abandon all his personal values for it, then thinking he might have also violated FEC and Senate rules to keep his lies under wraps is not such a difficult leap to make.

  2. John Mubarack Ensign you are washed up, there is only one thing that will help you "stick"
    in your Senate job:

  3. The country is in dire financial circumstances and running a huge budget deficit. The least Senator Ensign could do is to spare the overburdened taxpayer the expense of a special counsel.

    We are tired of reading this nonsense. Put the people you swore to represent ahead of yourself for a change. Give Nevada a break and resign.

  4. In response to Uhave2laff's comments....

    This Senate Ethics Committee is probably not addressing the mistress pay off thing.

    Senator Ensign, while he was a part of the Republican Committee during 2006-2008, has been alleged to been involved in various forms of corruption also. Not sure exactly what it was, but it was unethical, corrupt behavior. Not to mention the fact that he got the husband of his mistress a job; which was basically a clearcut violation of proper ethical behavior, if not an outright crime. That's a part of it too.

    Though his adultery and bribery are bad enough, I believe the other allegations are receiving the focus of this Senate Ethics Committee.

    I do agree though that Senator Ensign is pond slime and his career is over.