Former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) recently stepped down, apparently to avoid testifying under oath before the Senate Ethics Committee about his scandal-stained past. But that didn't stop the Ethics Committee from issuing a scathing report — and handing its evidence of alleged criminal wrongdoing to the Justice Department and Federal Elections Commission. The alleged violations center around Ensign's affair with his treasurer, Cynthia Hampton, whose husband, Doug, was also a top aide. In the wake of the affair, Ensign (who is married) allegedly gave the Hamptons hush money to keep them quiet, and facilitated insider lobbying. There's plenty of other "salacious" details, too. Here, five takeaways from the "bombshell" report:
1. Ensign and Cynthia Hampton used disposable phones and fake email accounts
The committee's report is "astounding and a hell of a read," says Taylor Marsh. But as tawdry as some of the details are, it's "the antithesis of the Starr Report" — the "pornographic" expose of Bill Clinton's dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. Ensign special prosecutor Carol Elder Bruce says she "was careful not to seek intimate details of the extramarital affair." Still, the report reveals $3,000 Ensign gave Cynthia for trysts in Las Vegas hotels, disposable cellphones and massive phone bills — not to mention fake email accounts (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com), and code names.
2. Ensign was told to "put your pants on and go home"
An "obvious highlight" of the report, says David Weigel at Slate, is an exchange between Ensign and his "spiritual adviser," Tim Coe. Days after an intervention in February 2008, Doug Hampton found his wife's and Ensign's cars in a hotel parking lot, and called Coe. Coe then dialed Ensign in the hotel room and said: "I know exactly where you are. I know exactly what you are doing. Put your pants on and go home." Ensign said no, "I can't, I love her." A married father of three, Ensign said on several occasions that he wanted to marry Hampton.
3. Doug Hampton chased Ensign around the airport
Ensign allegedly hounded Cynthia Hampton into starting the affair in November, 2007, after the Hamptons, whose own home was burglarized, moved in with the Ensigns. Doug Hampton discovered the affair the next month when he intercepted a text message from Ensign to Cynthia while the trio were driving to the airport in two separate cars. Once at the airport, Doug chased Ensign through the parking lot.
4. Ensign might go to jail
Despite many affair-related details, the ethics panel's two-year investigation focuses on Ensign's activities after he ended the affair and canned the Hamptons in 2008. After the affair was over, the family values Republican allegedly lied to the FEC about a $96,000 severance "gift" that his parents gave to the Hamptons, bullied Nevada companies to hire Doug Hampton as a lobbyist, and destroyed evidence. If Ensign hadn't resigned, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said, the Senate almost certainly would have voted to expel him. Doug Hampton has already been indicted. Some legal experts say Ensign could go to jail.
5. Tom Coburn and Rick Santorum might be in trouble, too
Sen. Coburn (R-Okla.) lived with Ensign in a C Street Christian fellowship house, and, according to testimony in the report, acted as a negotiator and intermediary between Ensign and Doug Hampton's lawyer. Coburn staged two unsuccessful interventions to get Ensign to quit Cynthia Hampton, but denied to the Ethics Committee that he acted as a negotiator. Santorum, a former senator and Fox News contributor who is now a GOP presidential candidate, tipped Ensign off that Fox was going to report on his affair, prompting Ensign to break the news first.