Ex-Ensign aide Hampton eligible for court-appointed attorney

WASHINGTON -- Doug Hampton, who once earned more than $12,000 a month as a U.S. Senate aide and who had hopes of making more as a lobbyist for Nevada clients, was declared indigent Tuesday as he faces federal criminal charges.

It's a measure of how Hampton's fortunes have fallen in the aftermath of the extramarital affair between his wife, Cindy, and Sen. John Ensign. After discovering their relationship, Hampton left Ensign's staff in April 2008 with, he says, a promise that he could exceed his Senate income as a lobbyist with clients arranged by the Nevada Republican.

The arrangement ultimately didn't pan out. Worse for Hampton, a federal grand jury indicted the former Las Vegan last Thursday on charges of violating federal lobbying restrictions in the process.

In preparation for arraignment, U.S. Magistrate John M. Facciola on Tuesday ruled Hampton was eligible for an appointed attorney, after reviewing a financial affidavit the defendant submitted and discussing Hampton's finances with the federal public defender's office.

In his order, Facciola wrote that it appeared "unquestioned that unless counsel is appointed the defendant will have to proceed without counsel due to indigency."

Facciola said he reserved the right to require that Hampton pay "some amount to the court" to cover the costs of the appointment if his economic situation improves.

In a further indication that Hampton is financially strapped, the federal public defender for the District of Columbia filed documents in court seeking to postpone Hampton's arraignment until next Monday and asking the court to pay for the defendant's travel from his home in Southern California.

The Hamptons relocated in recent months after losing their $1.2 million home in Summerlin to foreclosure, their Las Vegas attorney has said.

The documents were part of an initial flurry of paperwork in the case of Hampton, charged with seven counts of violating a law that forbids senior Senate staffers from lobbying the Senate for a year after they leave their Capitol Hill jobs.

Hampton is accused of contacting Ensign's office on behalf of clients beginning shortly after he left his congressional post.

Hampton, 48, came to Washington in 2007 to be Ensign's administrative assistant. He left Ensign's staff at the end of April 2008, several months after learning that his wife, a close friend of the senator's wife, was having an affair with Ensign, who also made her treasurer of his political operations.

In a 2009 interview with The New York Times, Hampton said he earned an annual salary of $144,000 as Ensign's administrative assistant.

Senate records compiled by Legistorm, an information service, indicate he was paid at a rate amounting to $160,000 annually. According to the service, he was paid a total of $245,179 over 17 months in the job.

Hampton has accused Ensign of being complicit in the lobbying arrangement for which he was indicted. Ensign, who has denied any legal wrongdoing, was not charged in a criminal case but remains under investigation by the Senate ethics committee.

Ensign's spokeswoman said Tuesday he wouldn't comment on Hampton's indictment.

The documents filed in U.S. District Court may provide a clue about the status of the ethics investigation against Ensign, who announced this month he will not run for re-election next year .

In asking that Hampton's arraignment be postponed, Federal Public Defender A.J. Kramer said the defendant's initial court appearance had been scheduled for Thursday in conjunction with "another proceeding that Mr. Hampton was going to be attending."

"However, when Mr. Hampton was indicted, that schedule was canceled," according to Kramer. Further information was unavailable, but it had been reported that Hampton was scheduled to be deposed at some point by Senate investigators.

The U.S. Justice Department is charging that Hampton's lobbying violated the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, a 2007 law enacted to slow the "revolving door" for top aides who leave Capitol Hill to cash in as lobbyists.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Contact reporter Jeff German at jgerman@review journal.com or 702-380-8135.