More questions about Ensign affair

The New York Times reveals a new dimension to the scandal, including the possible violation of ethics rules

Published October 2, 2009 2:30PM (EDT)

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., was in enough trouble after he admitted this spring to having had an affair with Cynthia Hampton, the wife of a staffer and close friend. He'd given up his post in the Senate's Republican leadership and ruled out any plans to run for president in 2012.

Even that didn't stop the bleeding, though, and he was eventually forced to reveal that his parents had given $96,000 to the Hamptons -- a payment that looked like hush money. Now, months after the initial revelation of the affair, the New York Times has revealed new details of its aftermath and the lengths to which Ensign apparently went to help Hampton's husband Doug after he'd left the senator's office. Ensign's "activities may have violated an ethics law that bars senior aides from lobbying the Senate for a year after leaving their posts," the paper says.

"[T]he senator arranged for Mr. Hampton to join a political consulting firm and lined up several donors as his lobbying clients, according to interviews, e-mail messages and other records. Mr. Ensign and his staff then repeatedly intervened on the companies’ behalf with federal agencies, often after urging from Mr. Hampton," the Times reports. "Mr. Hampton said he and Mr. Ensign were aware of the lobbying restriction but chose to ignore it. He recounted how the senator helped him find clients and ticked off several steps Mr. Ensign took to assist them with their agendas in Washington, activities confirmed by federal officials and executives with the businesses."

There's also a trail of colleagues and supporters of the senator's who, in the wake of the scandal, are feeling betrayed -- Ensign reportedly asked them to assist Hampton without ever disclosing what was going on.

One of Ensign's fellow senators, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn, played a large role in handling the fallout from the affair; he's not one of those saying he feels betrayed -- he knew what had happened -- but he certainly isn't taking it easy on Ensign either.

“John got trapped doing something really stupid and then made a lot of other mistakes afterward,” Coburn told the Times. “Judgment gets impaired by arrogance, and that’s what’s going on here.”

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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