The other shoe drops on Ensign

THE OTHER SHOE DROPS ON ENSIGN…. When Sen. John Ensign’s (R-Nev.) sex scandal first broke in June, it seemed as if it were merely humiliating. Here was a right-wing Republican, who preached “family values” and touted his Christian faith, having an extra-marital affair with an aide — who was also the wife of another aide. When we learned that the senator’s parents tried to pay off the mistress’ family, the controversy appeared even worse.

The question, though, was whether the salacious scandal was more than just a personal fiasco. This morning, in an impressive piece of reporting, the New York Times helps move the story from merely repulsive to probably illegal.

Early last year, Senator John Ensign contacted a small circle of political and corporate supporters back home in Nevada — a casino designer, an airline executive, the head of a utility and several political consultants — seeking work for a close friend and top Washington aide, Douglas Hampton. […]

The job pitch left out one salient fact: the senator was having an affair with Mr. Hampton’s wife, Cynthia, a campaign aide. The tumult that the liaison was causing both families prompted Mr. Ensign, a two-term Republican, to try to contain the damage and find a landing spot for Mr. Hampton.

In the coming months, the senator arranged for Mr. Hampton to join a political consulting firm and lined up several donors as his lobbying clients, according to interviews, e-mail messages and other records. Mr. Ensign and his staff then repeatedly intervened on the companies’ behalf with federal agencies, often after urging from Mr. Hampton.

While the affair made national news in June, the role that Mr. Ensign played in assisting Mr. Hampton and helping his clients has not been previously disclosed. Several experts say those activities may have violated an ethics law that bars senior aides from lobbying the Senate for a year after leaving their posts.

In acknowledging the affair, Mr. Ensign cast it as a personal transgression, not a professional one. But an examination of his conduct shows that in trying to clean up the mess from the illicit relationship and distance himself from the Hamptons, he entangled political supporters, staff members and Senate colleagues, some of whom say they now feel he betrayed them.

There are all kinds of ethics laws and lobbying rules intended to prevent the very actions Ensign seems to have taken. The Republican senator personally intervened with private companies to help land lobbying jobs for his mistress’ husband, and then proceeded to use his Senate office to do favors for those companies that cooperated.

Indeed, Ensign assigned his chief of staff to deal with the mistress’ husband directly. The law prohibits “senior aides from lobbying the Senate for a year after leaving their posts,” but Ensign didn’t care. “Mr. Hampton said he and Mr. Ensign were aware of the lobbying restriction but chose to ignore it.”

The story is just devastating for Ensign. It’s worth taking some time to read the whole thing.

Back in July, Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas was asked for a reaction to the Ensign sex scandal. “It’s not good,” Cornyn said. Asked if Ensign can recover, Cornyn added, “I just don’t know the answer to that.”

That was three months ago, long before this severely damaging revelations surfaced.

If propriety still has any meaning, John Ensign’s career is finished. Given what we’ve learned, his ability to function as an effective lawmaker is a thing of the past.