Ensign Claims He Complied with Senate Ethics Rules, Says He'll Cooperate With Investigations
Embattled Republican Sen. John Ensign told CNN Tuesday he did not break Senate ethics rules by helping to secure a lobbying job for the husband of the woman he had an affair with.
"I think it's pretty clear. I said in the past, I recommended him for jobs just like I've recommended a lot of people," Ensign told CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash and congressional producer Ted Barrett. "But we absolutely did nothing except for comply exactly with what the ethics laws and the ethics rules of the Senate state. We were very careful in everything that we did. You can see our statements on that."
The comments come four days after The New York Times reported the husband of the woman Ensign had a affair with, Doug Hampton, has since lobbied the Nevada senator on behalf of his clients. The New York Times also reported evidence that suggests Ensign played an active role in getting Hampton the lobbying position. Hampton, a former senior aide to Ensign, is barred by congressional ethics rules from lobbying his old boss for one year after leaving his post in the Senate.
While Republicans continue to distace themselves from the Senator, it appears he still may have one friend in Nevada--Harry Reid-- who continues to call the Ensign scandal a 'personal matter'. Time to end the 'gentlemen's agreement' Senator Reid.
BLITZER: Dark clouds hang over a senator mired in scandal. Republican John Ensign of Nevada, he recently admitted he cheated on his wife with the wife of his former chief of staff. Then we learned that the former chief of staff, Doug Hampton, got a lobbying job with Senator Ensign's help.
"The New York Times" reported the senator helped Hampton secure lobbying jobs for two Nevada-based companies, power company NV Energy and Nevada airline Allegiant Air. All this comes as The Times also reports that Hampton lobbied the senator on behalf of his clients.
Congressional ethics rules bar a former aide from lobbying a former boss for one year after employment. Now there's a serious question out there of whether or not the senator breached any ethics rules in the U.S. Senate.
Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, and our producer, Ted Barrett, they found Senator Ensign earlier today. He spoke to them in an exclusive interview. It's the first time he's talking publicly since the explosive new allegations emerged.
ENSIGN: I said in the past, I recommended him for jobs, just like I've recommended a lot of people. But we absolutely did nothing except for comply exactly with what the ethics laws and the ethics rules of the Senate state. We were very careful in everything that we did, and you can see our statements on that.
BASH: Do you have any indication that the Justice Department is gong to investigate?
ENSIGN: We only plan on -- we are going to cooperate with any official inquiries. But as you all know, you can't comment on any of this stuff, on any of those kinds of things.
BASH: Well, you can tell us if you've gotten any calls from the Justice Department or your lawyer has.
ENSIGN: Let me state this very carefully. We will cooperate with any official inquiry. OK?
BARRETT: Senator, "The New York Times" shows e-mails in the documentation that you had meetings with Allegiant Air and NV Energy, and intervened on their behalf, on specific items that they needed help with. And Doug Hampton represented them. Now, do you deny that that is the case?
ENSIGN: All of these things will, you know, come out. All of these things will come out at their due time, but there's no question we complied --
BARRETT: Well, you had -- you had contact...
ENSIGN: We complied with all of the ethics. Remember, just like, you know, we -- senators who leave, they have a two year, it doesn't mean that you don't talk to them. You can talk to anybody.
BARRETT: But not about clients and not about matters that they are lobbying for?
ENSIGN: Oh, I never met with Doug Hampton about any of that stuff.
BARRETT: But your staff did.
BASH: Senator, why was it so important to get Doug Hampton a job?
ENSIGN: Just look at our statement, look at our statement. It's very clear on that.
BASH: Is there any chance -- is there any chance -- are you considering resigning?
ENSIGN: I am focused on doing my work. I'm going to continue to focus on doing my work.
BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in Dana Bash. Dana, the charges are pretty significant, and he explained what he wanted to explain, but there's still lots of questions hovering out there.
BASH: Right, and still the central question that leads to potential ethical and potential criminal problems for Senator Ensign, Wolf, is the rules which are very, very strict now in banning staffers from lobbying their former bosses for one year. That's the so-called revolving door ban, which people up here for the most part take very, very seriously.
And the reason for that, Wolf, is because it's not just the Senate rule. It's also the law now. So as you heard the senator insist he complied with both the Senate rules and the law. He says he did nothing wrong, and he also strongly hinted there that he has not heard from the Justice Department on whether they are investigating him. We should tell you that the Justice Department will not comment either way.
BLITZER: Will the Republican colleagues of Senator Ensign comment either way?
BASH: No comment, Wolf, is what we heard over and over in the hallways today when Ted Barrett and I asked virtually every member of the Republican leadership about -- about this incident.
Now remember, Senator Ensign used to be a member of the Republican leadership before he resigned from that post after his affair became public. But Republican leaders, what they are doing now is they are using the Senate Ethics Committee investigation, which is ongoing as cover. They are saying we're going to let that panel do its work. And the Senate Republicans, they had their weekly lunch today. I talked to a couple of senators who were in that lunch, and they said that this issue did not come up.
BLITZER: What are the consequences if the Senate ethics panel decides there was wrongdoing?
BASH: They really run the gamut, Wolf. The Senate Ethics Committee, if they do decide to turn this preliminary investigation into a full-blown probe, they could just say that he did nothing wrong or they could also say that they are not going to recommend anything, or they could go all the way up to the top which is potentially recommending expulsion.
But I think it's important to remember what we have been told from several experts that we've talked to over the past several days about this that it really is a potential problem in terms of a criminal problem for Senator Ensign and whether or not the Justice Department is looking into this.
Several experts say, look, the Justice Department, they read the newspapers over there, and it just takes looking at something to potentially open a probe like this because they take this law so seriously. Again, the Justice Department, they will not say yay or nay or whether or not they are going ahead and doing that.
BLITZER: Dana Bash and our producer Ted Barrett catching up with Senator Ensign earlier in the day. Dana, thanks very much. Thank Ted as well.
BASH: I will.