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April 22, 2019

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Justice Department: Ensign complaint should go to FBI

WASHINGTON -- The Department of Justice has responded to an ethics group’s request for an investigation into Republican Sen. John Ensign’s affair by suggesting the group take its complaint to the FBI.

In a letter to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington released today, the Department of Justice said the questions surrounding the payments to the woman’s family are the purview of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“The FBI is the investigative arm of the Department of Justice and will determine whether a federal investigation may be warranted,” said the letter from William Welch, chief of the public integrity section.

“If you believe you have evidence of a violation of federal criminal law, you should provide that information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

The ethics group has said Ensign could be in violation of campaign finance law. Ensign’s parents paid the family of the woman, Cynthia Hampton, $96,000 around the time she and her husband stopped working for the senator. She had been his campaign treasurer, and her husband, Doug Hampton, was one of the senator’s top aides.

CREW maintains if the payments were a “severance” to Cynthia Hampton, as her husband claims, then they would need to be reported as an in-kind gift to the committee where she worked. No such payments were disclosed.

Ensign's attorney has maintained the payments were made as gifts to the Hampton family and "accepted as gifts."

Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, forwarded the complaint on Monday to the FBI.

Sloan suggested that the Justice Department's “public integrity section is not eager to prosecute another sitting senator” after criticism over its handling of the prosecution of former Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.

She said because “there is evidence suggesting Sen. Ensign violated a federal criminal law, CREW hopes the FBI will initiate an inquiry.”

The group has also sought investigations before the Senate Ethics Committee and the Federal Elections Commission.

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