Ethics group files complaints against Ensign

WASHINGTON — An ethics watchdog group filed complaints against Sen. John Ensign today, urging the Senate and the Federal Election Commission to investigate unanswered questions stemming from the Nevada Republican’s admitted extramarital affair.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington submitted an eight-page complaint to the Senate Ethics Committee, which has broad jurisdiction to probe allegations of impropriety by senators.

Separately in a filing with the FEC, the group alleged possible violations of federal campaign law in urging the agency to investigate whether Ensign made improper payments to his mistress, who had worked for his political organizations.

The Senate Ethics Committee did not comment on the Ensign matter. Generally the filing of an ethics complaint triggers a preliminary inquiry that could include the committee issuing subpoenas for relevant documents and witnesses to be interviewed.

The committee, a six-member panel composed of three Democrats and three Republicans, faces no deadlines in pursuing allegations, and its staff conducts investigations in secret under strict confidentiality rules.

The ethics complaints deepen the legal entanglements from the affair that Ensign acknowledged having from December 2007 to August 2008 with a close family friend from Las Vegas who worked on his two political organizations.

At the same time Ensign was conducting a relationship with Cindy Hampton, her husband, Doug, was a senior administrative aide on the senator’s personal staff. Both left Ensign’s employ at the end of April 2008.

In a letter Doug Hampton wrote this month to the Fox News Channel, he said they were dismissed as an outcome of Ensign’s "conduct and relentless pursuit of my wife."

The Senate complaint filed by the ethics group better known by its acronym CREW was accompanied by exhibits that consisted largely of news reports detailing information about the scandal as they emerged since Ensign acknowledged the affair on June 16.

Reports of an extramarital affair that involved employees and that reportedly involved their terminations should trigger a Senate investigation, CREW said in the complaint signed by Executive Director Melanie Sloan.

Ensign’s office had no immediate comment. Daniel Albregts, a Las Vegas attorney for Doug and Cindy Hampton, could not be immediately reached for comment.

If the discharge of the Hamptons is true and was related to the affair, Ensign might have engaged in sex harassment and sex discrimination in violation of federal employment law and Senate rules, according to the ethics complaint.

In that way, CREW said, the Ensign scandal might be compared to the one that led to the 1995 resignation of Sen. Robert Packwood, R-Ore.

Packwood quit the Senate under threat of expulsion after a Senate investigation substantiated a pattern of misconduct that included sexual advances on female staffers and lobbyists.

“Sen. Ensign’s stunning abuse of power shocks the conscience," Sloan said in a statement. "Sen. Ensign has replaced Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, as the latest poster senator for bad judgment and hypocrisy."

Craig was admonished by the Ethics Committee after he was arrested in a Minneapolis airport restroom in February 2008 for making what was described as a sexual advance on another man. He did not run for re-election that year.

In July 2007, Vitter asked for public forgiveness after being linked as a possible customer to a prostitution service. The Senate committee a year later dismissed an ethics complaint that was filed against him.

In Ensign’s case, CREW also urged the Senate and the FEC to investigate reports that he paid Cindy Hampton a severance when she stopped work as treasurer of his Ensign for Senate re-election committee, and his personal political action committee, Battle Born PAC.

Such payments are required by federal law to be reported, even if paid out of personal funds. Neither of Ensign’s committees reported a payment.

The complaint also questioned whether Ensign improperly used his authority to hire the Hamptons’ son to work at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which he headed at he time.

It suggested Brandon Hampton was hired as "some sort of gift to his then-mistress."

"Each of Sen. Ensign’s bad choices … violates Senate rules," the complaint states. "Considered together Sen. Ensign engaged in a course of conduct demonstrating a shocking abuse of position that reflects upon the Senate and merits the imposition of serious sanctions by the committee."

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

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