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FBI gets involved in Sen. John Ensign affair

Updated Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010 | 11:50 a.m.

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John Ensign

WASHINGTON -- The FBI has begun interviewing former aides to Republican Sen. John Ensign as it probes the fallout from the Nevadan’s affair, the Sun has confirmed.

The senator’s former staff members are being contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as part of an initial inquiry, but with no clear evidence of a full-fledged criminal investigation. The probe was first reported by Politico.

“The FBI has been out making contact with people in the Ensign case,” a source with knowledge of the investigation told the Sun.

Ensign’s office did not return requests for comment.

The senator already faces an inquiry from the Senate Ethics Committee into fallout from the affair with a former staffer that Ensign disclosed last summer.

Among those contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been John Lopez, the senator’s former chief of staff and longtime aide, according to those with knowledge of the investigation.

Lopez’s attorney, Robert Kelner, issued a statement today:

“John has a very good reputation for integrity and professionalism in Washington and has been in public service for years. He has complied with the law and worked hard for the people of Nevada.”

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, reiterated calls for Ensign to resign.

“The fact that the FBI is investigating makes clear that no one -- not even a powerful United States senator -- is above the law,” Sloan said. “It is time for him to resign.”

Ensign’s parents paid the woman, Cynthia Hampton, and her family $96,000 after she and her husband left his employment in 2008. Her husband, Doug Hampton, was a top aide to the senator at the time of the affair.

Ensign went on to help secure a job for Doug Hampton, who has disclosed that he violated the congressional cooling off period by lobbying the senator within a year of leaving office.

Doug Hampton has said the senator was aware that his former aide was violating the lobbying ban.

Sloan, whose organization initially called for investigations, suggests “there is reason to believe Sen. Ensign was involved in at least two felonies: conspiring to help former aide Doug Hampton violate the lobbying ban, and failing to report to the FEC the $96,000 severance payment made to Cynthia Hampton.”

Ensign has said he did nothing legally wrong, having recommended other former aides for new jobs.

The senator has said he will comply with any official investigation.

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