Justice Dept. opens preliminary investigation into Ensign's conduct

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Justice Department has begun a preliminary investigation into actions by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who arranged to provide money and career assistance to the husband of his mistress, sources familiar with the case said Tuesday.

The tentative investigation is being run jointly by the Justice Department, the FBI's Washington Field Office and the U.S. attorney's office in the District, one federal law enforcement official said.

Ensign acknowledged last year that he had an extramarital relationship with former staffer Cynthia Hampton and that his parents paid nearly $100,000 to Hampton and her husband, Doug, as a gift. Doug Hampton has also told reporters that Ensign knowingly ignored ethics restrictions by helping him get a lobbying job and access to federal officials, according to news reports.

The FBI inquiry ratchets up the legal and political pressure on Ensign, who has rebuffed demands from Democrats and some watchdog groups that he resign before facing re-election in 2012. The Senate Ethics Committee has issued subpoenas for documents related to the sexual affair.

Ensign spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher declined to say whether Ensign had been contacted by the FBI. "Senator Ensign believes he fully complied with all ethics laws and rules and plans to cooperate with any official inquiries," Fisher said.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has called for Ensign's resignation, said the FBI probe is "not surprising" because of the amount of evidence suggesting wrongdoing in the case.

"The fact that the FBI is investigating makes clear that no one -- not even a powerful United States senator -- is above the law," Sloan said.

Staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.

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