Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009 | 2:07 a.m.
Politicians who resort to stonewalling to hide the truth from the public often learn the hard way that this strategy eventually backfires.
Sen. John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, is learning that his messy extramarital affair with a woman who was then a campaign aide — the wife of his then-staff aide and close friend Douglas Hampton — simply will not go away. Ensign has violated the trust of his constituents through his steadfast refusal to answer questions about the affair with Cynthia Hampton, preferring instead to make vague statements that only raise more questions.
After The New York Times reported fresh details about the affair in a story reprinted Friday in the Las Vegas Sun, readers are certain to get the impression that Ensign violated more than his constituents’ trust. He may also have contributed to a breach of congressional ethics by helping Doug Hampton land a lobbying position to keep Hampton employed after he left the senator’s staff.
The Times, through interviews, e-mails and other documents, presented enough information to suggest that Ensign aided Hampton’s employment efforts despite a federal ethics law that prohibits senior Senate aides from lobbying the chamber’s members within a year of leaving those positions.
Even Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who served as a go-between when the Hamptons sought a multimillion-dollar settlement from Ensign to rebuild the couple’s lives, acknowledged to the Times: “John got trapped doing something really stupid and then made a lot of other mistakes afterward. Judgment gets impaired by arrogance, and that’s what’s going on here.”
We have said that the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonpartisan watchdog group, was justified in filing complaints over the affair with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics and the Federal Election Commission. Those complaints rest in part on whether Ensign properly disclosed severance pay or other payments made to the Hamptons during and after the affair.
We believe there has been more than enough information disclosed for the FEC and the Senate to seriously consider these allegations. We are losing hope that Ensign will ever open up to Nevadans about this embarrassing episode, but it’s not too late for his Senate colleagues and the FEC to seek the truth.