DOJ Cleared Ensign Of Wrongdoing...Without Examining Thousands Of Incriminating Emails. Will They Now Re-Open The Case?


You know, on one level, I'm happy that the DOJ is no longer the overtly partisan and retaliatory entity it was during the Bush years. However, I'm flummoxed by this seemingly overarching extension in the other direction. Reuters' Murray Waas breaks the story:

Ensign's once promising political career was over because of the disclosures, but he was no longer in any legal jeopardy.

The Justice Department had informed him in December 2010 that he would not face criminal charges. An aggressive Senate Ethics Committee investigation was still pursuing Ensign, but that probe would be shelved once he resigned.

As Ensign was preparing to leave the Senate, investigators for the Senate Ethics Committee were attempting at the 11th hour to obtain a trove of email correspondence concerning the payments to the Hamptons. The trouble for the committee was that Ensign's attorneys insisted the emails were privileged.

The committee had unsuccessfully battled for 18 months to obtain them.

A Reuters examination of the Ensign probe shows the case then took a sudden turn: Ensign reversed course and handed over more than 1,000 sensitive emails between himself and his attorneys and other top advisers. The decision "puzzled" congressional investigators who thought they would never see the emails and baffled even most of his own closest advisers, say people close to the case.

Those emails are apparently very incriminating, including ones by Ensign himself acknowledging that his coverup of the affair effectively ended his Senate career and by his attorneys that the payments to the Hamptons would inevitably trigger notice of the Senate Ethics Committee. Why Ensign released the emails is somewhat of a mystery. Did he assume he was out of the woods since the DOJ had already told them they were closing the books on this? Then he wasn't paying attention to his attorneys, who have warned him that this could instigate a re-opening of the investigation. If that's so, no investigation on Ensign's coverup could be complete without a full investigation of Tom Coburn and the part he played to broker the deal between Ensign, his parents and the Hamptons.

Ironically, this news comes the same week as the DOJ announced that they would seek an indictment against John Edwards for improper use of campaign funds to keep his own extramarital affair quiet. Of course, when you're a Democrat, you can expect much more stringent investigations by the Department of Justice.

The unexpected last minute developments in the Ensign case raise serious questions as to why the Justice Department closed its file on the Senator without first obtaining the crucial emails later seen by the Senate.

A senior Justice Department official told Reuters that the decision to publicly say that they were no longer pursuing Ensign displayed bad judgment, harmed the investigation, and will likely leave lingering effects on the Department's reputation in prosecuting public officials.

The Department is already smarting after the dismissal of charges against the late Senator Ted Stevens, a Republican from Alaska, after disclosures of prosecutorial misconduct.

My initial reaction was to roll my eyes at the lackluster and careless performance once again by Attorney General Eric Holder, but I've been corrected by journalists that this likely never did get to Holder's desk. I'm not sure if it is helpful, but here is the contact information for the DOJ, and certainly, having citizens demand that the DOJ re-open the case in light of these new revelations can't hurt.

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