The Ensign fallout

The report from the Senate ethics committee on former Republican Sen. John Ensign is simply brutal. What we knew before about his sex/ethics/corruption scandal was remarkable enough, but the summary released yesterday was simply devastating. Evidence of multiple felonies is overwhelming, not to mention proof that Ensign is a sleazy moron.

But while the Justice Department reviews the report and considers criminal charges, it’s worth keeping in mind that the ethics committee’s findings implicate others.

To be sure, the case against Ensign is genuinely shocking. The Senate report not only documents his alleged crimes, but also offers salacious details about his lengthy affair with his best friend’s wife. The right-wing Christian conservative pursued his mistress with a creepy obsessiveness, and clumsily tried to cover it up, including ordering aides to commit apparent crimes.

Ensign, however, isn’t the only one facing new scrutiny.

Sen. Tom Coburn faces troubling new questions about his role in the extramarital affair of his former colleague, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), including allegations that the Oklahoma Republican may have not been completely candid when questioned by Senate investigators about the still unfolding scandal.

For Coburn, the Ensign case has been a confusing — and apparently unending — parade of contradictions involving personal friendship, loyalty, religion, and political self-preservation. Coburn has found himself making headlines he clearly never wanted, and now he is a recurring character in the shocking Senate Ethics Committee report. […]

CREW has filed a complaint with the Ethics Committee against Coburn in a bid to find out whether Coburn violated Senate rules when he became involved in negotiations between Ensign and the Hamptons over a potential multi-million-dollar payment from the senator once the affair with Cindy Hampton was over.

Coburn has downplayed his role in those discussions, but several witnesses told the Ethics Committee under oath that Coburn was heavily engaged in those ultimately fruitless talks.

Coburn, a close Ensign ally and fellow member of a secretive C Street “fellowship,” denied playing a role in Ensign’s failed attempt to buy off the Hamptons. Indeed, Coburn not only denied this on national television, but also reportedly to Senate investigators. Those claims now appear, at a minimum, to be inconsistent with other findings from this probe.

Indeed, it appears Coburn “acted as a go-between for the Hamptons, their attorney, and Ensign when the parties tried to hash out a multi-million-dollar payoff for the Hamptons.”

And while Ensign is gone and will likely find his fate in the hands of the courts, Coburn remains an influential sitting senator.

Judd Legum’s conclusion seems entirely right: “One thing is certain: Tom Coburn has a lot of explaining to do.”