Senator Resigns to Avoid Testimony

On Thursday, April 21st, Senator John Ensign (R-NV) announced his resignation from the Senate effective May 3rd, which is only one day before the Senator is scheduled to testify in an investigation before the Senate Ethics Committee about the legality of a $96,000 payment to the family of his former lover. Ensign, whose been married since 1987, admitted to an extramarital affair in June 2009 with Cynthia Hampton, an aide hired as Ensign’s campaign treasurer in 2004.

Despite this admission of wrongdoing in 2009, Ensign has persistently argued he did not violate any laws or Senate rules and has continued to serve his constituents. Ensign even went as far as to say in October 2009 that he “definitely” would not resign. Though, the Senate Ethics Committee’s 22-month investigation into this matter, which is the Committee’s longest investigation in over a decade, has apparently discovered enough details to urge Ensign to resign.

The committee announced on February 1st [.pdf] the appointment of a special counsel with a specialty in white-collar crime to assist in the investigation. Shortly thereafter on March 7th, Ensign announced he would not seek a third term in 2012, due to what he said would be “an exceptionally ugly campaign,” but Ensign has now taken action to prevent an exceptionally ugly conclusion to his seat in the Senate.

Perhaps the two biggest issues Ensign would face in the ethics hearings are questions about a $96,000 check his parents gave the Hampton family, as well as whether Ensign broke the law by attempting to find lobbyist work for Doug Hampton, whose the husband of Cynthia Hampton and also served as a senior aide for Ensign from 2006 to 2008.

After Dave Hampton abruptly left his senior position in early 2008 upon discovering the affair between his wife and his boss, Ensign allegedly utilized his political connections to find new employment for Hampton at an airline company and an energy company. On March 24th, 2011, both the airline and energy positions were listed in an indictment against Doug Hampton on seven counts of violating the 2007 law passed after the Jack Abramoff scandal that criminalizes work as a lobbyist within one year of termination from congressional employment.

While Ensign’s resignation will prevent him from testifying before the Senate Ethics Committee about the employment of Doug Hampton and the $96,000 check to the Hampton family, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the committee suggested in a statement [.pdf] they would not let the evidence of their lengthy investigation simply disappear, but that Senator Ensign made the “appropriate decision.”

With the resignation of Senator Ensign on May 3rd, this marks the second resignation of an elected congress member in 2011. Representative Christopher Lee (R-NY) quickly resigned earlier this year when it was revealed the married congressman had sent a shirtless photo of himself in response to a dating advertisement on Craigslist. Also, Ensign’s resignation will not alter the amount of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, since the Republican Governor of Nevada will likely appoint another Republican to assume Ensign’s Senate seat until the 2012 election.

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