The Senate Ethics Committee referred the John Ensign corruption case to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation, saying that their findings show that Ensign “violated Senate Rules and federal civil and criminal laws, and engaged in improper conduct reflecting upon the Senate, thus betraying the public trust and bringing discredit to the Senate.”
Senate Ethics Committee chairs Barbara Boxer and Johnny Isakson made an unusual appearance on the Senate floor to go over their findings in the case. Ensign resigned from the Senate, leaving the chamber a day before he was supposed to testify in front of the Ethics Committee.
The Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department already dropped their investigations of Ensign, accused of not only having an affair with Cindy Hampton, the wife of his chief of staff, but having his parents pay off the Hamptons to the tune of $96,000 and working to get Doug Hampton a job as a lobbyist. Both of these measures could violate federal law. Despite the abandoning of the investigation by DoJ, however, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hinted a couple weeks back that the case could get referred back to DoJ. The Ethics Committee uncovered new information in their 22-month investigation.
In their referral letter, the Ethics Committee finds that Ensign did violate federal laws, including:
• violations of the one-year post-employment contract restriction on federal lobbying;
• conspiracy to violate that restriction;
• lying to the FEC;
• violated campaign finance laws;
• obstructed the preliminary inquiry of the Ethics Committee.
Rarely do you see such a strong statement from the Ethics Committee against one of their own, let alone a referral to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. [update after the jump]
If I find anything more notable in the report, I’ll update.
UPDATE: Here’s some good stuff from the summary of findings:
Senator Ensign facilitated Mr. Hamptons unlawful post-employment lobbying by pressuring contributors and constituents to hire Mr. Hampton even though he had no public policy experience or value as a lobbyist other than access to the Senator and his office. For example, when a prominent Nevada constituent declined to hire Mr. Hampton, Senator Ensign instructed John Lopez, his Chief of Staff, to jack him up to high heaven and inform the constituent that he was cut off from Senator Ensign and could not contact him any longer […]
Mr. Hampton improperly contacted Senator Ensigns office regarding at least twelve different client matters, and initiated at least thirty improper contacts to Senator Ensigns office and various other Senate offices during his one-year post-employment ban period.
Senator Ensign communicated with Mr. Hampton and took action on behalf of his clients, including the following matters, among others, which are explained in detail in this Report: (1) a Department of Transportation (DOT) enforcement action that was successfully resolved with a small fine; (2) a draft environmental impact study; and (3) facilitating high-level meetings between one of Mr. Hamptons clients and the DOT Secretary, as well as other Senators.
Before and after Mr. Hamptons termination and during the time period when the Senator was helping Mr. Hampton get clients, Senator Ensign instituted office policies that had the effect of making Mr. Hamptons contacts harder to detect, including a shredding policy, discouraging use of official Senate email accounts in favor of Gmail, and directing that all inquiries of the Committee go through Mr. Lopez, the person he directed to interact with Mr. Hampton.
This is just on the lobbying stuff, there’s more on the $96,000 payment in the report. The report shows that Ensign’s parents also lied to the FEC about the payments.
…This report is a treasure trove. Ensign apparently deleted documents and files relating to the Hamptons once he knew there would be an investigation, amounting to obstruction of justice. He deleted his own Gmail account and created a new one for the same purpose. And the report says that “Senator Ensign violated his own Senate office policies, including… fraternization and sexual harassment based on his affair with Ms. Hampton.” The strong inference is that Cindy Hampton didn’t want to engage in the affair and repeatedly tried to end it, mainly because she was an employee of Ensign’s.
…One investigator said that, had not Ensign resigned, his conduct would have warranted expulsion.