Watchdog Wants Records on Senator’s Affair

     (CN) – A government watchdog demands the Justice Department release records about former Nevada Senator John Ensign’s affair with a staff member and his search for a job for the cuckolded husband.
     Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sued the Department of Justice in a FOIA complaint in District of Columbia Federal Court. It claims DOJ’s Criminal Division, the FBI and the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys are improperly withholding records on the Ensign investigation.
     CREW claims the DOJ wrongfully denied its FOIA request for documents about the closed investigation into Ensign’s affair and its aftermath.
     “On June 16, 2009, then-Senator John Ensign (R-Nev.) admitted he had been having an affair with a former campaign staff member who was later identified as Cynthia Hampton, the wife of Sen. Ensign’s close friend and former chief of staff, Doug Hampton,” the complaint states. “The affair had begun in late 2007, and continued until July 2008.
     “Both Cynthia and Doug Hampton were promised severance payments from Sen. Ensign upon leaving his employ. After discussions with Sen. Ensign about these payments, Doug and Cynthia Hampton and two of their children received a check dated April 27, 2008, for $96,000 from the Ensign Family Trust account. The Ensign Family Trust holds the significant personal assets of Michael and Sharon Ensign, the parents of Sen. Ensign. Sen. Ensign has no authority to order disbursements from this trust.
     “After the story of Sen. Ensign’s long-term affair became public, Sen. Ensign acknowledged publicly in July 2009, [that] the Hamptons had received a payment of $96,000, which he described as a gift from his parents to the Hampton family. The amount of this so-called ‘gift’ greatly exceeded other gifts Michael and Sharon Ensign had given to others.
     “Mr. Hampton received an additional payment of $6,000, which Sen. Ensign’s office described as the final payment for 12 days of unused vacation. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which Sen. Ensign then chaired, also paid the Hamptons’ son a total of $6,000 for his work as an intern.
     “After Sen. Ensign advised Mr. Hampton he could no longer work for his office, Sen. Ensign met with constituents in an effort to persuade them to hire Mr. Hampton as a consultant. Sen. Ensign’s efforts to line up work for Mr. Hampton paid off, securing Mr. Hampton a position as an outside governmental affairs consultant with Allegiant Airlines.
     “Following his departure from Sen. Ensign’s congressional staff, Mr. Hampton began lobbying Sen. Ensign’s office on a variety of issues on behalf of Allegiant Airlines. One result of this lobbying was a telephone call Sen. Ensign made to the Secretary of Transportation, which resulted in the Department of Transportation making an offer to settle a pending enforcement proceeding against Allegiant.
     “Beyond his lobbying on behalf of Allegiant Airlines, Mr. Hampton also contacted Sen. Ensign’s office on behalf of Entravision, a Spanish-language media company, in June 2008, and NV Energy in November 2008. In all, Mr. Hampton contacted Sen. Ensign’s office at least 30 times regarding at least 12 different client matters.
     “After the story of Sen. Ensign’s infidelity broke, in late 2009 or early 2010, DOJ initiated a criminal investigation of Sen. Ensign based on actions he took to control the fallout from his affair. DOJ’s probe focused on Sen. Ensign’s interactions with Doug Hampton after he left the congressional payroll and Sen. Ensign’s activities as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.”
     Ensign announced in December 2010 that the Department of Justice had no plans to charge him with any crimes related to his efforts to cover up the affair, according to the complaint.
     Ensign resigned in the spring of 2011, while the Senate Ethics Committee was investigating the cover-up of his affair with Mrs. Hampton.
     “On May 10, 2011, Carol Elder Bruce, appointed by the Ethics Committee as special counsel to conduct a preliminary inquiry, issued a report laying out in great detail the evidence she had gathered, the sources of the evidence, and her conclusions that Sen. Ensign acted illegally in his efforts to cover up his affair with Mrs. Hampton,” the complaint states. “… The potential criminal actions uncovered by the preliminary inquiry included, inter alia, aiding and abetting the violation of a one-year post-employment lobbying ban, discriminating on the basis of gender, false statements to the Federal Election Commission (‘FEC’), and obstructing justice.”
     Bruce recommended that the Department of Justice and the FEC investigate Ensign’s alleged violations of federal campaign finance laws and other statutes, according to the complaint.
     “In response to the report, the Ethics Committee voted unanimously to refer the findings of the special counsel to DOJ and the FEC,” the complaint states. “In explaining the vote Ethics Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Boxer stated, ‘we have reason to believe that Sen. Ensign violated laws within their jurisdiction’ based on evidence she characterized as ‘egregious.’ According to Sen. Boxer, the special counsel had found evidence ‘so disturbing’ that if Sen. Ensign had not resigned, the evidence ‘would have been substantial enough for consideration of expulsion.’
     “Although DOJ promised publicly to examine the information referred by the Senate Ethics Committee thoroughly and to take any necessary and appropriate steps, in fact it took no further action against Sen. Ensign. As a result, there remains no open criminal investigation of Sen. Ensign, and he has faced no charges from either DOJ or the FEC for the actions he took to cover up his affair with Mrs. Hampton.
     “By contrast, DOJ did indict Doug Hampton in March 2011, charging Mr. Hampton with seven felony counts for allegedly lobbying Sen. Ensign and his staff in violation of federal conflict of interest laws. In June 2012, through a plea agreement, Mr. Hampton pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for violating the one-year lobbying ban on former Senate employees. On Sept. 5, 2012, he was sentenced to one year probation.”
     In 2010, CREW asked the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, the FBI and the EOUSA to release records on their investigation of Sen. Ensign, including records on the Department of Justice’s decision not to prosecute Ensign.
     CREW claims the agencies improperly withheld records under different exemptions, including an “unwarranted invasion of privacy” exemption, and rejected its appeals.
     CREW wants to see the records. It is represented by Anne Weismann.

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