Ethics Committee refers Ensign case to Justice

Posted May 12, 2011, at 10:52 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Former Sen. John Ensign of Nevada broke federal law, made false statements to the Federal Election Commission and obstructed a Senate Ethics Committee’s investigation into his conduct, the panel said Thursday in a scathing report that sent the matter to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.

The former Republican lawmaker “created a web of deceit that entangled and compromised numerous people,” the committee said, adding that it had assembled enough evidence to warrant possible expulsion had Ensign not resigned.

Ensign quit his seat effective May 3, one day before he was to have testified under oath about an affair with the wife of a top aide, the aide’s subsequent lobbying of Ensign’s office and a payment from Ensign’s parents to the onetime aide’s family.

The committee also asked the FEC to conduct its own investigation.

The Senate cannot punish a member no longer serving, but the referrals ensure that investigation of Ensign will go on for some time. Ensign’s lawyers had announced last December that the Justice Department was no longer targeting him.

Ensign has acknowledged an affair with Cynthia Hampton, a former campaign treasurer. She’s the wife of Douglas Hampton, who was Ensign’s co-chief of staff.