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October 23, 2016

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Pre-trial schedule set for former aide to Sen. John Ensign

WASHINGTON -- A trial for Doug Hampton, the ex-chief of staff and former friend of former Sen. John Ensign, won’t happen until the fall at earliest, after lawyers for the prosecution and defense agreed on a pre-trial schedule today that will stretch over eight months.

It’s a long schedule and a sign, according to the head of one government watchdog group, that Hampton may not be cooperating with the Justice Department’s investigation of Ensign after all.

Hampton is charged in D.C. Federal District Court with violating the year-long lobbying ban that applies to former congressional aides, for taking help from Ensign to secure lobbying contracts before he left his job in the senator's office — an exit prompted by Ensign's affair with his wife.

Hampton has pleaded not guilty.

Today, he agreed to waive parts of his right to a speedy trial -- the process has been going on for nine months already, as District Judge Beryl Howell noted -- in order to give his lawyer enough time to file motions in his defense.

“We agreed that there likely will be motions...and the government agreed I would have until early to mid-May for the filing of those motions,” Hampton’s public defender, A.J. Kramer, told the judge, remarking that the discovery process was a “massive undertaking” considering their limited resources.

As it stands now, Hampton’s defense motions are due to the court by May 11. The government prosecutors then have until July 13 to respond, and then the defense gets until Aug. 10 to reply.

Kramer suggested they plan on going to trial by Oct. 1 -- but Judge Howell said she preferred to have an oral argument on the motions first. That date -- the next in which Hampton will be required to appear in court -- is Sept. 5.

The extended schedule suggests that Hampton is not waiting to see if he can make a deal with the Justice Department, according to Melanie Sloan, director of the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, who came to the courtroom to observe today's proceedings and offer Hampton her assistance.

The Justice Department had dismissed the idea of indicting Ensign, but then re-opened the possibility after the Senate Ethics Committee released a scathing report of actions Ensign took to cover up the affair and assist Hampton in breaking the cool-off period rule for which he is now on trial.

Ensign resigned from the Senate just before he was scheduled to give sworn testimony to the Senate Ethics Committee in early May. The committee released its findings, without Ensign's testimony, about a week later, and sent their findings to the Justice Department and urged them to open their investigation.

“This sounds like [Hampton’s] not [cooperating with that investigation],” Sloan said. “The fact that they’re just setting dates...why would you be going to trial if you were cooperating?”

The judge also agreed to change the terms of Hampton’s release: He will only be required to check-in twice a month, instead of once a week. So far, Hampton has not missed a check-in, according to the lawyers.

Hampton declined to speak to reporters after his hearing. But when asked how he felt about how things were scheduled to proceed, he paused, offered a half-grin and said: “I’m OK.”

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