The Real Sen. Ensign
SO TROUBLING are the latest revelations about Nevada Sen. John Ensign's efforts to keep secret his extramarital affair with a former campaign aide that not even his friends are speaking up for him. "Judgment gets impaired by arrogance, and that's what's going on here," said Okla. Sen. Tom Coburn, relating how his fellow Republican got trapped in a stupid act and then followed it with a lot of mistakes. Mr. Ensign's behavior goes far beyond mistakes; he misused his office, and he must be held to account.
Ever since Mr. Ensign, once presumed to have presidential aspirations, acknowledged last summer his adulterous relationship with Cynthia Hampton, a family friend who worked in his campaign and was married to his top aide, disturbing details have trickled out. Ms. Hampton was promoted around the time of the affair; Mr. Ensign's parents gave the woman and her family $96,000; and the couple's son ended up working for the National Republican Senatorial Committee chaired by Mr. Ensign.
Those issues, though, pale in comparison to recent disclosures by the New York Times that Mr. Ensign helped find Cynthia Hampton's husband, Douglas, work as a lobbyist and that Mr. Hampton, in turn, lobbied Mr. Ensign on behalf of his clients. According to the Times, Mr. Ensign, acting on requests from Mr. Hampton, appealed to officials at the Interior and Transportation departments to intervene on matters raised by clients -- a power company and an airline -- represented by Mr. Hampton. Mr. Ensign has said that he acted without regard to Mr. Hampton's efforts. Federal law prohibits congressional aides from lobbying their ex-bosses or other colleagues for one year after departing their government jobs. Mr. Hampton told the Times that he and Mr. Ensign were aware of the restriction but chose to ignore it. That could, according to experts, put Mr. Ensign at legal risk.
It will be up to the Justice Department and the Senate ethics committee to decide whether Mr. Ensign violated federal law or Senate ethics rules. A spokeswoman for the senator said that he will fully cooperate with any inquiries and that he believes he complied with all relevant rules and laws. But there's another issue: What kind of man lets his parents clean up his mistakes (by paying off an old girlfriend) or misleads supporters (into hiring Mr. Hampton) or ensnares friends (such as Mr. Coburn) in his tawdry affairs? Mr. Ensign recently delivered a pronouncement about public mistrust of Washington: He's a good example of why.