Ensign’s precarious future

ENSIGN’S PRECARIOUS FUTURE…. Sen. John Ensign’s (R-Nev.) recent scandals haven’t held the media’s attention, but if the sitting senator is subjected to a criminal investigation, I’m hoping that’ll change.

To briefly recap, Ensign’s sex scandal initially broke in June, and pointed to a controversy in which the conservative, “family values” senator carried on a lengthy extra-marital affair with an aide, who happened to be married to another aide. Ensign’s parents tried to pay off the mistress’ family.

Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that the Republican senator pushed political and corporate allies to give lobbying contracts to his mistress’ husband, Douglas Hampton. Despite laws prohibiting aides from lobbying for a year after leaving the Hill, Ensign and the aggrieved husband allegedly ignored the rule, and the senator used his office to cater to the needs of those who hired Hampton.

What’s next? John Bresnahan and Manu Raju report on the likelihood of Justice Department prosecutors taking an interest in Ensign’s case.

The Justice Department is expected to decide within weeks whether to pursue a criminal probe into the relationship between Ensign (R-Nev.) and the staffer’s husband, and two prominent Washington defense attorneys say prosecutors are likely to find Ensign’s case irresistible.

“I don’t see how they cannot look at this case,” Stan Brand, a Washington attorney who specializes in ethics laws, said of the Justice Department. “From the department’s standpoint, you have a motive, a huge motive — and that is to take care of this personal problem he had. From their perspective, they have this entire scheme cooked up to buy the silence of somebody who could damage [Ensign] personally and politically. That’s not a case without jury appeal.”

Another D.C. defense lawyer — a former Justice Department prosecutor who spoke on the condition that he not be identified by name — said prosecutors would likely consider whether Ensign “aided and abetted” Doug Hampton, the husband of the woman with whom he had an affair, in violating the one-year ban on lobbying by former staffers or in failing to register as a lobbyist.

“This may be a hard one for them to take a pass on,” the attorney said of his former Justice Department colleagues. “I think, at a minimum, a grand jury will be empaneled, and Ensign and Hampton will be called in to testify.”

Peter Zeiderberg, a former Public Integrity prosecutor for the DoJ, who helped lead the Scooter Libby prosecution, told Fox News that a criminal probe of Ensign “is likely.”

Maybe then the media frenzy would kick in? Howard Kurtz noted the other day that David Letterman’s sex scandal “has unleashed a tsunami of coverage,” but “serious allegations involving Sen. John Ensign have barely produced a trickle.” Why? because the Ensign story “is complicated and not very visual.”

Let this be a lesson to politicians everywhere: if you’re going to have a lurid affair, make it as messy and complex as possible. The media apparently only cares about the sex scandals that are easy to explain.