Ensign e-mails contradict some ethics probe claims

A series of e-mails disclosed Wednesday by The New York Times documents efforts by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., to help a former staffer line up lobbying work in the aftermath of Ensign's affair with the staffer's wife.

The newspaper posted five pieces of e-mail correspondence among Doug Hampton, the staffer in question, Ensign and others associated with the senator.

"The messages are the first written records from Mr. Ensign documenting his efforts to find clients for Mr. Hampton, a top aide and close friend, after the senator had an affair with his wife, Cynthia Hampton," The Times said.

The newspaper continued: "They appear to undercut the senator's assertion that he did not know the work might involve Congressional lobbying, which could violate a ban on such activities by staff members for a year after leaving government."

Ensign is being investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee in connection with the scandal. And in January, the FBI began to investigate allegations of wrongdoing, sources have said.

Ensign acknowledged the affair but has denied any other wrongdoing.

Ensign disputed The Times' characterization of the correspondence the paper posted Wednesday.

"Any allegation or inference that Senator Ensign's motivation for doing his job as a Senator was anything but for the good of his state is completely false and misleading. He did everything necessary to ensure there was no impropriety whatsoever in this matter," Ensign spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher wrote.

She continued: "No one is more anxious for this investigation to be completed and for the facts to come out than Senator Ensign. "

The first correspondence The Times posted was an e-mail dated May 23, 2008, to Ensign from Bob Andrews, then executive vice president of P2SA Equity of Las Vegas, an alternative energy investment firm.

Andrews thanked Ensign for meeting with him and co-owner Greg Paulk regarding help the government could offer related to a biodiesel plant and another project near Sloan.

He concluded: "Give me information regarding next week's fundraising and we will certainly attend."

The e-mail was forwarded to Hampton from Ensign's account with the comment, "I think you have played golf with him. This is who I met with."

The Times concluded the correspondence is evidence Ensign met with Andrews with the goal of helping Hampton get work, which Hampton needed following his departure from Ensign's office in the affair aftermath.

The paper also reported that Andrews' comment about fundraising concerned members of Ensign's staff. Subsequently, Ensign returned $1,666.66 of a $10,000 donation Paulk made to a political action committee Ensign shares with several other politicians. The refund represented Ensign's share of the contribution, according to the paper.

More e-mails posted by The Times include statements from Hampton asserting Ensign was lining up lobbying work. Hampton has made the assertion numerous times .

One message from Ensign consultant Mike Slanker to Hampton seeks to soothe the embittered former staffer.

The note, dated May 26, 2008, assures Hampton that Slanker spoke with Ensign about the possibility P2SA might have lobbying work available.

In a subsequent e-mail, Hampton tells Ensign: "You ensured me that you would have no issues getting at least three clients and that more than likely I would make more money consulting than I did working for the Senate."

In another Hampton says P2SA declined to hire him.

"Bob (finally) got back to me and they have decided they do not need service at this time," the Hampton e-mail to Ensign said.

A woman who answered the phone Wednesday at P2SA's listed number said Andrews is no longer with the firm. She said she would leave a message with Paulk.

Slanker did not return an e-mail seeking comment, and attorney Daniel Albregts, who has represented Hampton, was unavailable for comment.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.