Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign is likely to be indicted for a $96,000 payment he made to the husband of the aide with whom he had an affair, a leading Nevada political reporter says.
John Ralston of the Las Vegas Sun reports that prosecutors looking into the scandal surrounding Ensign’s affair with former aide Cynthia Hampton are focusing on the payment made by Ensign’s parents to the Hamptons. Critics have charged that Ensign used his parents to pay off the cuckolded husband, Doug Hampton.
But prosecutors believe the money may have been a form of “structuring,” an illegal activity where transactions are reclassified to avoid reporting rules. While Ensign’s defenders sat the payment to the Hamptons was a “gift,” federal prosecutors believe it may have been a severance payment to Ensign’s aide, in which case it broke the law surrounding reporting of severance payments.
Two former federal prosecutors in the past two weeks have said there is enough evidence to indict Ensign. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Just based on what the senator has said himself and what Mr. (Doug) Hampton has said Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ under the federal standard of probable cause, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s enough to indict the senator now,Ã¢â‚¬Â ex-prosecutor Stan Hunterton, a well-respected local attorney, said March 19 on Ã¢â‚¬Å“Face to Face.Ã¢â‚¬Â Then, Thursday on the program, Melanie Sloan, the former federal prosecutor who now heads a D.C. watchdog group that has filed several complaints against Ensign, said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I completely thinkÃ¢â‚¬Â Hunterton is right.
The Ensign saga began to emerge in June 2010, when Ensign confirmed reports of his having an affair with Cynthia Hampton between December 2007 and August 2008. It later emerged that Ensign’s parents had given $96,000 to the Hamptons, a move that was widely interpreted as a roundabout pay-off.
In October, the New York Times reported that Ensign arranged for a new job for Doug Hampton after Hampton confronted the senator about the affair. Ensign’s lobbying effort on behalf of his aide was reportedly a violation of Senate ethics rules.
Last month, the Times obtained emails showing Ensign trying to land another job for Hampton, this one with a small energy investment company, PS2A, which at the time was seeking Ensign’s help on a number of projects. Ethics lawyers told the Times that “the case could pose legal problems for Mr. Ensign.”
And last week it was reported that the Department of Justice had expanded its investigation of Ensign’s activities, issuing subpoenas to six Nevada companies that had contact with Ensign.
“If Ensign gets indicted, he will become a national and state nightmare for the GOP,” Ralston reports. “National Democrats will brandish him as a symbol of corruption (they may anyhow) and local Democrats will wrap the junior senator around the GOP Senate nomineeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s neck….”
Ralston also notes that the Justice Department’s failed prosecution of Alaska GOP Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008 “has cast a shadow over the Ensign case. … The department is being very deliberate in assembling a case against Ensign.”