UYGUR: We have breaking news out of Nevada tonight. According to numerous press reports, Nevada Republican Senator John Ensign will resign tomorrow. Ensign had earlier said that he would not run for re-election after he was forced to admit that he had an affair with an aide, who is also the wife of his friend and his chief of staff. Same person. We now believe he will resign from the Senate tomorrow. Ensign‘s conduct led to a Senate ethics investigation, which is ongoing. That investigation focuses on former top aide, Doug Hampton, who claimed that Ensign helped him to get lobbying clients. That was after, of course, he had slept with his wife. In March, the senator announced he would not seek re-election next year, but that departure has obviously been dramatically accelerated, I should say.
Joining me now is Jon Ralston, he is a columnist for the “Las Vegas Sun” and host of the Nevada political program “Face to Face.” He‘s been the leading reporter on the Ensign scandal.
All right. Apparently, we have lost the shot with Jon. All right. So—is he still on the line? OK. So here‘s the situation. Let me break it down for you guys a little bit. Now, Doug Hampton is the chief of staff for Ensign. As we get Jon back. Let me tell you of the situation. And he winds up sleeping with Doug Hampton‘s wife, Ensign does. Now, in order to make up for it, he says, all right, let me get you some lobbying clients, maybe, allegedly, of course, right? And after he gets the lobbying clients, well, Doug Hampton decides, you know, what? I still don‘t like that he slept with my wife, he goes and talks about it, and then there‘s a Senate ethics investigation. And Ensign is trying to figure out, can I get past this thing? Maybe he could get past the sex scandal. Obviously, other Republicans have. We‘ve got David Vitter in Louisiana. And you know, he ran as a family values candidate, but so did Vitter, so—all right. And so he figures, maybe I can get past the sex scandal, but you know what, the ethics investigation is a whole different ball game. And that‘s what they were leading into. So, it was surprising that he resigned today, but perhaps there‘s something in the ethics investigation that he knows about that we don‘t know about that made him think, hmm, best to get out of there and not deal with it.
And by the way, of course, remember that Ensign had said about Clinton during his affair, quote, “it was an embarrassing moment for the country.
Clinton has no credibility left.” And here‘s the part I love. That was in 1998.
After he said all that stuff, embarrassing. He‘s like, oh, look at one of my aides. Remember, Doug Hampton‘s wife is also Ensign‘s aide, and he slept with her. Was that embarrassing? It wasn‘t embarrassing enough for him to resign immediately when people found out about it. He‘s like, oh, yes, yes, I did that and I‘m going to run for re-election.
All right. And look, he‘s got plenty of things that he finds immoral, of course, gay marriage, everything else that other people do is immoral. Things that Ensign does, well, let me see how the political fallout goes. So the political fallout, apparently ended his career in terms of running for re-election, but he was still going to stay in office until this very moment. And we‘re trying to figure out what happened there.
So, Jon Ralston has rejoined me. He‘s from Las Vegas, as we told you. Jon, what happened today that led him to this investigation, we think?
JON RALSTON, “LAS VEGAS SUN”: I‘m not sure that anything happened today, but it‘s clear that the only thing that could have pushed Ensign out is that the Ethics Committee did not, as I‘m sure he hoped, drop that investigation. There were some reports out of Washington that they were proceeding. I think he hoped that after he announced that he was going to retire that everything would be dropped. The Department of Justice had already dropped this investigation, although it indicted Doug Hampton. And I think Doug Hampton was eager to get John Ensign up there in front of a jury to talk about this. That could still happen. But it‘s clear that Ensign is getting out ahead of anything coming out of the Ethics Committee.
UYGUR: Yes, here‘s my experience with politics. People don‘t just
resign, right? Especially, I mean you‘re a politician, right? He‘s going he wanted to hang on for dear life. So, obviously, something‘s afoot here, right? And you would think that the ethics investigation is the most likely reason why. What could be in it? So, obviously, we don‘t know yet, but what could be in it? Could it be about Doug Hampton‘s lobbying contracts, could it be about their son, which is a whole different angle on this? Can you tell us about that?
RALSTON: There‘s so much evidence there that Ensign has done wrong, no matter how you define wrong, and I think there was some sentiment, from what I heard, that the Ethics Committee wanted to go where the Department of Justice would not go with all of this. I mean, John Ensign‘s career was over, when he called that press conference on June 16th, 2009. The only person who seemed not to know it was John Ensign. And so he has been dragged, kicking and screaming, every step of the way. People expected him to resign in the summer of 2009. Look how long this has taken. There is a mountain of evidence that Ensign has done wrong. Again, depending on how you define wrong. The Ethics Committee has all of that. Whether or not the Department of Justice ever could have prosecuted him, criminally, we may never know. But to just say that he could be censured by the Ethics Committee, I don‘t think he wanted to stick around under those circumstances.
UYGUR: Jon, real quick, if he does resign, is it over? I mean, does he just get to ride into the sunset and he doesn‘t have to worry about any kind of investigations?
RALSTON: Well, there is no wonder enough, because while we were having those technical problems, he actually put out a release, finally announcing what I reported about an hour ago, which he put out a release, that‘s headlined right in front of me here. Ensign to resign from office. So, he‘s gone as of May 3rd. That‘s the effective date. And so, yes, he‘s done with politics. Who knows what he will do next. He was a veterinarian. I guess he can go back to dealing with cats and dogs. For him, I guess that‘s safer than human beings.
UYGUR: All right. Well, who‘s in more trouble, ultimately, Hampton for breaking the rules or Ensign, you know, if he resigns, if he gets away with it and goes back to cats and dogs. Is the guy, you know, whose wife had an affair with Ensign in worse trouble than Ensign himself?
RALSTON: You know, that is one of the great tragedies of this story, what has happened to Doug Hampton. He was brought to Washington by his good friend, John Ensign. Ensign then proceeds to have an affair with his wife, essentially fires the two of them, pays them off with $96,000 of his parent‘s money, and then one of the sickest parts of this whole scandal, then tries to help Doug Hampton to get lobbying jobs. And eventually, Hampton has had enough, thinks Ensign has not done enough to make up for this, as if anybody could, and so, then he decides to go public with this. And from then on, you see Doug Hampton‘s a broken man. He‘s lost his house, he‘s lost his job. He‘s just—he‘s destitute now.
RALSTON: And now, what tops it all, he gets indicted and Ensign gets off.
UYGUR: I know, it‘s sick. All right. Jon Ralston, we really appreciate your help tonight.