JOHN ENSIGN BETTER HAVE A GOOD LAWYER…. While the media generally seems inclined to give Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) a pass on his sex/ethics/corruption scandal, the controversy itself seems to be getting more serious. Yesterday, a federal grand jury started issuing subpoenas.

According to one subpoena obtained by a Las Vegas television station, recipients were ordered to testify March 31 in Washington, D.C., and to turn over documents relating to the Republican senator.

TV station KLAS reported Thursday that the subpoenas went to six unnamed Las Vegas businesses. The subpoena posted on the station’s Web site blacks out the recipient’s identity.

The local station reported that the subpoenas are part of a “wide-ranging and deadly-serious criminal probe.”

The businesses themselves are unlikely to have done anything wrong here. It’s more likely that the subpoenas are intended to determine exactly what Ensign did to help cover up his sex scandal.

If you’re just joining us, Ensign’s humiliation came to public attention in June, when we learned the conservative, “family-values” lawmaker carried on a lengthy extra-marital affair with one of his aides, who happened to be married to another one of his aides. Ensign’s parents tried to pay off the mistress’ family.

The scandal grew far worse in October, when we learned that the Republican senator pushed his political and corporate allies to give lobbying contracts to his mistress’s husband. When Douglas and Cynthia Hampton left Ensign’s employ — because, you know, the senator was sleeping with Cynthia — Ensign allegedly took steps to help them make up the lost income, leaning on corporate associates to hire Douglas as a lobbyist. Emails that surfaced last week bolstered the allegations.

Federal officials are apparently trying to determine whether the far-right senator contacted these Las Vegas businesses about helping Doug Hampton.

The investigation is apparently moving quickly — the local report noted that the grand jury “wants all of the subpoenaed records by the end of this month.”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.