'C Street' Sen. Ensign Resigns As Ethics Committee Closes In
When Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., announced last month that he would not seek re-election, no one was surprised. But tonight Ensign caught Washington unaware when he announced that he would resign his seat on May 3, saying he did not want to put his family and friends through a public hearing on the adultery scandal that has likely ended his political career for good.
Speculation abounds that the findings of a Senate Ethics Committee investigation could lead to criminal charges, even though, in his remarks tonight, Ensign stated that the Justice Department had declined to charge him with criminal wrongdoing. The New York Times, however, reported that Justice Department sources declined to confirm that assertion.
The Times offered this excerpt from the ethics panel's statement:
“The Senate Ethics Committee has worked diligently for 22 months on this matter and will complete its work in a timely fashion,” said the statement by Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, and Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia. “Senator Ensign has made the appropriate decision.”
Ensign, you'll recall, had an affair with his best friend's wife. And the best friend was his most trusted aide. And the wife was on Ensign's campaign staff. And the child of the best friend and best mistress was on the internship payroll of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which Ensign chaired.
When the best friend, Doug Hampton, learned of the affair his wife, Cindy, was having with the handsome senator -- now his ex-best friend -- Ensign's parents bestowed nearly $100,000 in "gifts" on the Hamptons. Oh, and Ensign got Hampton a lobbying job with a Las Vegas airline -- a job that involved lobbying Ensign, which is appears to be a little bit illegal.
The scandal took on an even more cloak-and-dagger air when it was revealed that Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. -- Ensign's housemate at the C Street residence for lawmakers operated by the secretive Christian cult known as the Family -- acted as Ensign's confessor, and his go-between in discussions with the Hampton family for a cash settlement of the matter.
The Family -- also known as the Fellowship -- is known in Washington as the best friend of dictators, including the recently deposed Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast, and supports the careers of the lawmakers behind Uganda's infamous "kill the gays" bill. Other than its sponsorship of the National Prayer Breakfast, the Family conducts few of its activities in public. Instead, it forms secretive cabals of powerful men throughout the world, the most powerful at the heart of the U.S. government. (Jeff Sharlet's two books on the organization, The Family and C Street, reveal chilling details of the group's global reach, and the role of U.S. senators and congressmen in its work.)
In February, the ethics committee saw fit to hire a special prosecutor, Carol Elder Bruce, described by CNN as "an experienced former federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's office in Washington, D.C." The engagement of a special prosecutor suggested that the committee's investigation was turning up serious wrongdoing.
Last month, Coburn appeared before the committee in behind closed doors, a development that Politico writers Manu Raju and John Bresnahan said indicated that the investigation was "intensifying." Coburn, citing his status as both a physician and a deacon, once said that he would never share with anyone what he discussed with Ensign concerning the affair, but at the hands of a special prosecutor, he changed his tune, turning over e-mails and, according to a Coburn aide, 1,200 pages of documents to the Justice Department.
Last month, Doug Hampton was indicted for illegally lobbying Ensign's staff.
Ensign's seat will be filled by an appointment to be made by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican. A likely choice would be Rep. Dean Heller, who had announced plans to run for Ensign's seat in the November election. Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, has also expressed interest in running for that seat. In the GOP primary, Heller could face Sharron Angle, the theocratic Tea Party candidate who, in 2010, ran against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
As for Ensign, his resignation will effectively shut down the Senate committee's investigation -- but perhaps not before the matter is referred to another jurisdiction. Around Washington, there's a sense of another shoe yet to drop.