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August 27, 2015

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Senate Investigation:

Six things revealed about John Ensign

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Steve Marcus

Sen. John Ensign announces he will not seek another term in 2012 during a news conference at the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas on Monday, March 7, 2011.

Ethics report

Sun reporter Karoun Demirjian talks to KSNV about the Senate Ethics Committee report on former Sen. John Ensign, May 12, 2011.

Face to Face

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Senate Ethics Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is pursued by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 12, 2011, after speaking on the Senate floor about former Nevada Sen. John Ensign.

Doug Hampton interview - July 2009

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Doug Hampton interview, part 2 - July 2009

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From the time Sen. John Ensign went public with his extramarital affair in 2009 and his resignation from the Senate on May 3, Nevadans learned much about the once-rising star’s stunning fall.

But Senate Ethics Committee investigators, who deposed 72 witnesses and pored over half a million pages of documents as they probed potentially criminal acts to cover up Ensign’s dalliance, unearthed details previously unknown.

The report, released Thursday, reads like a juicy drugstore paperback. It chronicles the slow implosion of Ensign and his inner circle through lusts indulged, friendships betrayed and cover-up conspiracies wrought as he carried on an affair with campaign staffer Cynthia Hampton, and then tried to shuttle her and her husband, Doug Hampton, the highest-ranking staffer in his Senate office and Ensign’s best friend, into jobs that would get them out the door.

Here are six new revelations about the affair and alleged cover-up contained in the 75-page report:

Why the families were living together

The Ensigns and the Hamptons were close: Cynthia Hampton and Darlene Ensign were high school friends and the couples regularly vacationed together. But why were they living together?

Shortly after Ensign pulled Hampton in to take over the administrative half of the chief-of-staff duties — the legislative and political work was left to John Lopez, the star witness of the Ethics Committee’s report — the Hamptons’ house was burgled. Burglars broke through the front door and stole jewelry, electronics — and Cynthia’s peace of mind.

Doug’s job was keeping him in Washington, D.C., for most of the week, and Cynthia just didn’t feel safe in a house with a broken door. So Ensign told the Hamptons: “Well, you guys are going to have to come and stay with me.” The affair started shortly thereafter, at Ensign’s repeated urging.

Technical troubles

In announcing the Ethics Committee’s findings Thursday, Sen. Barbara Boxer said “our actions, all of them, have consequences.” For Ensign, one might be to be more careful with cellphones.

When it came to email, Ensign seemed aware that he should be covering his tracks. The senator used a Gmail account for official business instead of an official @ensign.senate.gov address, which would have been backed up on congressional servers. He even made up fake email addresses to communicate with her, among them: “fredschwartz72@yahoo.com,” “mariaschwartz@yahoo.com” and “maryholland82@yahoo.com.”

But when it came to cellphones, Ensign couldn’t get a clue. Doug first found out about the affair from a text message Ensign sent to Cynthia he discovered as the three were driving to the airport, caravan-style, to pick up the Hamptons’ son. Doug confronted his wife about the affair in their car, and then chased Ensign around the airport parking lot demanding an explanation.

When Ensign picked up the affair again, it was again via texts, although this time he saved Cynthia in his phone as “Aunt Judy.” That might have worked, had Ensign not then loaned his phone to Doug to call his wife, who came up as Ensign’s “aunt.”

Still, his faith in phones could not be extinguished: Ensign bought two cellphones for Cynthia to use exclusively for their affair, and Darlene Ensign promptly found out and canceled them.

Documents destroyed

Ensign wasn’t just trying to avoid public scrutiny of his personal and professional dealings; he was allegedly trying to destroy the evidence.

The Senate Ethics Committee report says Ensign deleted the Gmail he used for official business on Oct. 1, 2009, well after he was notified about the panel’s investigation. The report says he kept deleting documents from other accounts after that, including one detailing the nature of the money paid to the Hamptons.

During the affair, Ensign’s office apparently implemented a shredding policy for sensitive documents — at the senator’s request.

No cooling off

It’s not clear if the Justice Department or the Federal Election Commission will reopen their investigations into Ensign as the Ethics Committee recommended. But an area they might be interested in are the allegations that Ensign conspired to help Hampton break Congress’ cooling-off rule, which says staffers have to wait a year before they can start lobbying the offices they used to work for.

Hampton knew where he’d be headed before he went off the Senate payroll: to Mike Slanker’s November Inc. to lobby for clients Ensign agreed to set him up with, starting with Allegiant Airlines.

Hampton wasn’t an aviation expert. But he apparently became quite vocal on the subject in his last days around the office, “essentially getting a head start on his lobbying career,” the report said.

Hampton’s official lobbying activities started, by email, a mere three business days after he was out the door. That’s illegal: You’re supposed to wait a year.

No love for ethics

The Ethics Committee’s Republican Vice Chairman Johnny Isakson applauded the panel for discretion and fairness “to see to it this institution’s integrity proceeds in the future uninhibited and unendangered.”

Ensign didn’t have the same regard for the committee’s work.

“They will always tell you no if you want to do something,” Ensign said of the ethics panel, according to Lopez, as he’s quoted in the report. “They take the most conservative view about everything.”

The report documents other instances of Ensign scoffing at warnings he was treading into dark ethical territory, especially pertaining to Hampton’s contact with the office after the affair was public and he’d left.

But the Ethics Committee wasn’t the only body Ensign had unkind words for.

The senator who campaigned on morals, the report suggests, was a bit of a bully with a potty mouth. He cursed out those who crossed him — even the spiritual advisers who tried to stage an intervention. And when Sig Rogich wouldn’t help him find Hampton a job, he told staffers to “jack him up to high heaven, and tell him that he is cut off.”

Timing of his resignation

Perhaps the most damning allegation in the report is the fact that Ethics Committee investigators planned to conclude their inquiry by deposing Ensign on May 4-5. Before that could occur, Ensign announced his resignation, effective May 3.

That suggests he either had something to hide, or feared being a sitting senator when the worst came out. As Boxer put it: “had Sen. Ensign not resigned ... the evidence of (his) wrongdoing would have been substantial enough to warrant the consideration of expulsion, the harshest penalty available to the committee and the Senate.”

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