WASHINGTON -- The Senate Ethics Committee is taking depositions in its probe of Sen. John Ensign, as investigators continue to dig into allegations stemming from the Nevadan's extramarital affair, according to a knowledgeable source.
The source said the gathering of depositions is a step in advance of the six-senator committee determining whether Ensign might have violated conduct rules that could result in a reprimand or recommendations for stronger punishment.
In another sign that the investigation is moving forward, Sen. Tom Coburn has spoken with the committee about Ensign, Politico reported Thursday.
Coburn, R-Okla., was one of Ensign's roommates in a Christian group house and reportedly served for a time as a liaison between Ensign and Doug Hampton, a Las Vegas friend and the husband of the Nevadan's mistress.
Hampton also was one of Ensign's top aides at the time of the affair, which Ensign has said took place between December 2007 and August 2008.
Ensign told Politico he had not yet been interviewed by the ethics committee. He has denied breaking any laws or violating Senate rules in his relationships with Doug Hampton and his wife, Cindy, who also served as treasurer of Ensign's political organizations.
The Justice Department concluded a criminal investigation into Ensign in December without pursuing charges. The Federal Election Commission declined to pursue a related investigation.
Reports of new activity in the Senate probe broke on a day Ensign was scheduled to attend a luncheon fundraiser for his re-election campaign as he attempts to regain his political footing from the ethics turmoil.
The Senate Ethics Committee took the unusual step last month of appointing a special counsel, former federal prosecutor Carol Elder Bruce, to manage the investigation, which has been ongoing since late 2009.
Investigators are weighing allegations that Ensign tried to cover up the affair by setting Hampton up as a lobbyist and through a $96,000 check Ensign's parents gave to the Hampton couple around the time they left Ensign's employ in spring 2008.
Jeff German of the Las Vegas Review-Journal contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@review journal.com or 202-783-1760.