Ensign Ethics Charges Referred to Justice Department and FEC, Lurid Details Emerge

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The Senate Ethics Committee released a report Thursday afternoon alleging that former Sen. John Ensign broke federal laws in a cover-up of the extramarital affair that torpedoed his once-promising career.

The bipartisan committee, which released its findings after a 22-month investigation, voted unanimously to refer the matter to the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission. “We have reason to believe that Sen. Ensign violated laws within their jurisdiction,” Ethics Committee chair Barbara Boxer said in a statement on the Senate floor.

The Nevadan’s fall began in 2009, when he copped to conducting an affair with Cynthia Hampton, a former aide and the wife of Doug Hampton, one of Ensign’s top staffers. Ensign admitted that his wealthy parents gave Doug Hampton a $96,000 “gift.” The incident prompted three separate probes into whether Ensign had committed an ethical breach by orchestrating that payment or by helping Doug Hampton land a lobbying job that violated the Senate’s one-year ban against lobbying by former staffers. Hampton was indicted earlier this year for allegedly lobbying the former Senator on behalf of aviation clients just three days after beginning his new job. (More on Time.com: See the top 10 political sex scandals)

The 75-page report outlines a series of allegations stemming from those incidents, including revelations that Ensign allegedly helped Hampton violate the temporary lobbying ban, lied to the SEC by framing the payment as a “gift” rather than a severance payout (which could violate federal election law) and obstructed the investigation by deleting his personal Gmail account, on which he stored correspondence related to the inquiry. There is “substantial cause to conclude that Senator Ensign violated Senate Rules and federal civil and criminal laws, and engaged in improper conduct reflecting upon the Senate, thus betraying the public trust and bringing discredit to the Senate,” the report said.

The document also recounts salacious details from the affair itself, from the way it began (at Ensign’s behest) to the Senator’s badgering phone calls to Cynthia Hampton. According to the document, Doug Hampton first discovered their dalliance two days before Christmas in 2007, when his wife left her cell phone in the family car. It reportedly contained a suggestive text message from Ensign, saying he was “scared, but excited” about the tryst. Incensed, Hampton is said to have confronted his wife and “chased” Ensign around an airport parking lot. After a teary meeting as a foursome, the two couples celebrated Christmas together, the document says. But after a brief hiatus, the affair reportedly continued.

Both the FEC and the DOJ launched probes into the saga, but no charges were filed. After vowing to serve out his term, Ensign, 53, resigned last month, saying he had not violated any laws but wouldn’t “continue to subject my family, my constituents, or the Senate to any further rounds of investigation, depositions, drawn out proceedings, or especially public hearings.” Today’s report almost assures he will suffer the scrutiny he sought to avoid.

Ensign’s replacement, Dean Heller, was sworn in as Senator earlier this week.

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