Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said the evidence was “substantial enough to warrant the consideration of expulsion” had Ensign not resigned in early May.
In a 75-page report, a special counsel hired by the committee painted a stark portrait of a narcissistic lawmaker whose affair with his wife’s good friend spiraled into a tale of devastated families, payments to buy silence and the ultimate downfall of a rising political figure.
The aide, Cynthia Hampton, has since filed for divorce, begun bankruptcy proceedings and started to work for a Christian organization. Her husband, Douglas Hampton, is under federal indictment. Ensign, who portrayed himself as a devout Christian conservative, resigned from the Senate rather than testify under oath, ending a political career that once carried presidential ambitions.
On Thursday, his attorneys denied that their client had broken any laws or Senate rules.
“Senator Ensign has admitted and apologized for his conduct and imposed on himself the highest sanction of resignation. But this is not the same as agreeing that he did or intended to violate any laws or rules,” Abbe Lowell and Robert Walker said in a statement.
A Justice Department aide would say only that the ethics report had been received.
Boxer and Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.), the ranking Republican on the evenly divided six-member committee, cited eight findings in which there was substantial evidence that Ensign committed legal violations or broken Senate rules.
The most prominent accusation was that Ensign broke federal “cooling-off” laws when he helped Douglas Hampton, who had worked as an aide to the senator, gain lobbying employment and clients. Ensign dismissed both Hamptons after the affair became public.
The Justice Department’s public integrity unit indicted Douglas Hampton in March on charges that he broke a one-year ban on lobbying his former Senate boss.
The committee also alleges that Ensign engaged in “potential obstruction of justice” in the case, saying he had deleted e-mails after the panel began its investigation.
The report also alleges that $96,000 that Ensign’s parents gave to the Hampton family, which had been portrayed as a gift, amounted to severance money and violated federal campaign finance laws. The committee’s counsel, Carol Elder Bruce, alleged that Ensign provided false statements to the Federal Election Commission as it reviewed a complaint about the matter.