Another Opinion: Ensign’s scandal leaving unanswered questions
Sen. John Ensign of Nevada has been dogged for the past nine months by a scandal centered on his affair with the wife of his former chief of staff, Doug Hampton. There have been questions about whether Ensign violated federal law and Senate rules in the wake of the affair.
In June, Ensign acknowledged the affair in a short statement in Las Vegas, refusing to take questions. He has since gone on an apology tour across the state, but he has continued to stonewall. As he has, the facts have slowly come out, and the more they do, the worse it gets for him.
The New York Times this week reported on previously undisclosed e-mails that paint a further portrait of what happened after Hampton learned of the affair, including shedding light on Ensign’s role in trying to help push lobbying work to Hampton. Cynthia Hampton, Doug’s wife, was working as a campaign aide to the senator when the affair started.
Ethical and legal questions have arisen over the senator’s handling of the affair fallout. The senator forced them both out of their jobs in spring 2008. The Hamptons received a $96,000 payment from a fund controlled by Ensign’s father, which was said to be a gift. Hampton said he was told it was a severance.
Investigators are looking at the propriety of that payment, as well as whether Ensign’s efforts to find lobbying work for Hampton violated federal law and Senate rules.
Ensign spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said, “If Doug Hampton violated federal law or rules, Sen. Ensign did not advise him to do so, did not suggest that he do so, and did not cooperate with his doing so.”
The documents clearly suggest that Ensign not only knew about Hampton’s nascent lobbying career, but that he also tried to launch it.
While Ensign and his staff have repeatedly denied wrongdoing, at the same time they have refused to comment directly on the situation. The senator’s silence is troubling because it does a disservice to his constituents. Once a rising star in the Republican Party, he had to step down from his leadership post in the Senate because the scandal has tarnished his office and his reputation.
Even on his short apology tour last year, he did not address the specifics and only spoke to friendly audiences. In an interview on CNN on Dec. 31, Ensign declined to discuss specifics, adding, “I have answered the questions that I’m going to answer.”
This has gone on long enough. It is an embarrassment to Nevada, especially as the sordid details are repeated each time something new is reported.
Nevadans deserve better. It’s time for Ensign to do the right thing, be open and transparent, and start answering questions.