The scandal that erupted last year when it was revealed that Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) had not only had an affair with the wife of one of his top aides but may have violated Senate ethics rules in an attempt to hush the matter up expanded this week with the release of emails further documenting Ensign’s efforts on behalf of his former aide.
The New York Times reported in October that when Douglas Hampton confronted Ensign about the affair, Ensign arranged for him to take a job as a lobbyist with a Nevada consulting firm, an apparent violation of Senate restrictions on lobbying by former aides. Ensign then steered some of his own corporate donors to Hampton as clients on whose behalf Hampton lobbied his former boss.
The Times has now obtained emails which appear to show Ensign also trying to arrange for Hampton to be hired by a small Las Vegas energy investment firm which was seeking Ensign’s help on several projects. The firm’s co-owner, Greg Paulk, had previously donated to Ensign’s campaign.
“According to the e-mail messages,” the Times writes, “Mr. Ensign met with Mr. Paulk and Bob Andrews, then P2SA’s executive vice president, in May 2008 to discuss any help the senator might be able to provide on energy projects. … Mr. Ensign brought up the idea of P2SA’s hiring Mr. Hampton, Mr. Andrews recalled. The senator mentioned ‘that he might have somebody we should talk to who might be able to provide us with assistance in our biodiesel program,’ Mr. Andrews said, adding: ‘I took this as a helpful hint.'”
That meeting led to discussions between Hampton and Andrews about a possible consulting job. Although those discussions came to nothing, ethics lawyers told the Times that “the case could pose legal problems for Mr. Ensign.”
Ensign’s dealings with P2SA raise additional questions beyond the issue of whether he helped Hampton violate the lobbying ban. The Times obtained a follow-up email, suggestive of a quid pro quo, in which Andrews told Ensign, “We are excited about the assistance that you and your staff may be able to give us” and added, “Give me the information regarding next week’s fund-raising and we will certainly attend.”
Since last fall, both the Senate Ethics Committee and the FBI have been looking into the Ensign case. According to Politico, “Sources say the Justice Department investigation remains in an information-gathering phase, but it is moving swiftly and could soon turn into a full-fledged inquiry that would put further strain on the embattled senator’s political career. To date, no information has been presented to a federal grand jury, but that could soon change.”
“Many political analysts in Nevada and Washington believe that Hampton is out to destroy Ensign’s career by periodically leaking damaging news on the senator to the media in order to keep the sex scandal story alive,” Politico explains. “Since he disclosed the affair last summer, Ensign has denied any violations of federal law or Senate ethics rules.”
Ensign’s spokesperson told Politico “that Ensign ‘did not take any legislative action at the behest of this company’ and that he previously returned campaign donations he received from a P2SA executive.”
“No one is more anxious for this investigation to be completed and for the facts to come out than Senator Ensign,” the spokesperson added. “He not only returned the donation, but also informed the company that his office could not be of assistance in any capacity due to the connection of a fundraiser and legislative requests made by any employee of the company.”