The New York Times has obtained email messages that offer new details about the efforts of the Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) to find lobbying work for a former aide, Doug Hampton, after Hampton had left the senator’s office in the wake of an affair between Ensign and Hampton’s wife, Cindy.
The FBI is investigating whether Ensign broke lobbying rules by trying to steer lobbying work to Hampton, and by directing his staff to maintain contact with the former aide. Ensign has said that he didn’t know the work he was seeking for Hampton would involve lobbying Congress.
The messages detail Ensign’s effort to land Hampton a job with P2SA, a Nevada alternative energy firm co-owned by Greg Paulk, an Ensign backer. In May 2008, the senator met with Paulk and another firm exec, Bob Andrews to discuss any help that Ensign could offer the firm on its energy projects.
It had already been reported that Ensign found jobs for Hampton with two other Nevada companies, and intervened with federal officials on behalf of the companies, after they had hired Hampton. But the discussion with P2SA weren’t previously known.
Andrews told the Times that Ensign brought up the issue of a job for Hampton. “I took this as a helpful hint,” he said. Andrews also said he understood that Hampton was a lobbyist. “Being able to lobby our Congressional and senatorial lawmakers was certainly something we were exploring,” he added.
Ensign then forwarded to Hampton a followup email he had received from Andrews, noting: “I think you have played golf with him. This is who I met with.”
Hampton then had a series of meetings with the firm, but in the end, a job never materialized.
The emails also show Hampton referring to the $96,000 that Ensign got his parents to pay Hampton as “severance.” Ensign has called it a gift. The distinction is important because the payment was never reported, which would be illegal if it were severance. Writes Hampton: “Forget that severance that was not part of the deal and that was for Cindy having to leave her job. There was no severance for me as you stated it was not possible with government employees.”
In addition, the emails portray a desperate Hampton pleading with Ensign to work harder to find employment for Hampton, after the affair had led to the dismissal of both Hamptons from the senator’s employ. “Regardless of the circumstances you assured me that i would not be injured as a result of leaving your organization,” writes Hampton. In another message he writes: “You ensured (sic) me that you would have no issues getting at least three clients and that more than likely I would make more consulting than I did working for the Senate. Today that is not the case and in May my income suffered.”
An Ensign spokeswoman told the Times:
Senator Ensign has stated clearly, he has not violated any law or Senate ethics rule. If Doug Hampton violated federal law or rules, Senator Ensign did not advise him to do so, did not suggest that he do so, and did not cooperate with his doing so.
Ensign has not said whether he intends to run for re-election in 2012.