Republicans narrowly avoided another electoral disaster in Nevada when John Ensign abruptly resigned from the US Senate. Late yesterday, the Senate Ethics Committee revealed their report on Ensign, which details not just broken rules of the upper chamber but evidence that Ensign committed felonies in trying to cover up his affair with the wife of a lobbyist. The charges were serious enough to warrant expulsion, Barbara Boxer claimed:
The 68-page report was not only explosive in its conclusions — it alleges Ensign violated Federal Election Commission rules and campaign finance law and obstructed the Ethics Committee investigation. It was salacious in detail, alleging an almost obsessive pursuit by Ensign of Cindy Hampton, a former aide, and his attempts to pay off Hampton’s family as part of what the ethics panel called a “web of deceit.”
The committee referred the findings to the Justice Department and the FEC to investigate the possible violations.
“These findings are so disturbing … that had Sen. Ensign not resigned and had we been able to proceed to that adjudication, that it would have been substantial enough to warrant the consideration of expulsion,” Ethics Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said on the Senate floor.
Since 1789, only 15 senators have been expelled from the body — and 14 of those were charged with supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War. Other senators like Ensign have resigned to avoid potentially harsh sanctions by the committee.
Be sure to read through the whole Politico report, which is shockingly tawdry and disturbing. It’s tawdry to the extent that Ensign pursued this affair despite multiple interventions by family and friends, and despite the public wreckage that began to mount. One colleague had to tell him that he knew exactly where Ensign was and with whom, and that he should “pull on his pants” and go home.
It’s disturbing in the extent that Ensign abused power to continue the affair and to keep it quiet. His paramour’s husband used to work for Ensign, but after the affair got exposed, Ensign set him up as a lobbyist and allowed him to lobby Ensign, a violation of federal law. He also made tens of thousands of dollars in payments to Hampton to set up his business and to keep him quiet. In at least one case, Ensign intervened with the Department of Transportation to benefit a client of Hampton’s, which should be grounds for prosecution as well as grounds for expulsion.
Thankfully, Republicans have Dean Heller filling out Ensign’s term, but that may not be enough to separate the GOP from the stench. Heller should be a strong candidate to run for the office on his own in 2012, but expect Democrats to come out gunning for Heller with Ensign’s track record in the general election.
And now that we’ve finally seen the corruption in which Ensign engaged in the Senate, when do we get to hear about Maxine Waters’ efforts to benefit her family’s investment in OneUnited from the House Ethics Commitee?