Ensign aides cleared to testify to grand jury on senator's affair

WASHINGTON -- The Senate cleared a path Thursday for staff members to testify before a federal grand jury investigating criminal misconduct allegations against Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.

A resolution that passed without dissent and without discussion shortly before the Senate recessed for the evening authorizes the testimony of "Senate employees in a grand jury proceeding" in the District of Columbia.

Such a grand jury has been convened in the Ensign case. It was another sign that the Justice Department is moving along in its probe of Ensign's extramarital affair with his former political aide Cindy Hampton and allegations he violated lobbying law and other statutes in attempting to cover it up.

The Senate ethics committee is conducting a parallel investigation.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., read the title of the resolution and called for its passage by unanimous consent as part of the Senate's closing routine that included passage of several minor noncontroversial bills. She said it has been submitted earlier Thursday.

Citing Senate aides, the Politico news site reported the resolution was necessary because Senate rules prohibit staffers from testifying outside Congress. The rules uphold the speech or debate clause in the Constitution that prohibits members of Congress from being prosecuted for their legislative activities.

Ensign's office did not respond Thursday night to a request for comment. The Nevada Democratic Party called attention to the resolution in a release that described the development as "devastating news for Ensign and another sign that his political career is coming to an end."

Contact Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.