The federal probe into Sen. John Ensign’s sex and lobbying scandal is said to be focused on whether the Nevada senator structured financial transactions in order to evade reporting requirements. That’s according to “a reliable source familiar with the deliberations occurring inside the Justice Department,” reports Jon Ralston of the Las Vegas Sun.
Ralston’s report suggests that the $96,000 payment from Ensign’s parents to the Hamptons — which was called a gift, but appears to have been an unreported severance payment from the senator — may have run afoul of “structuring” laws. If that’s accurate, it raises another question: could Ensign have dragged his mother and father — a wealthy and well-connected casino entrepreneur — into legal jeopardy with him?
Ralston, who has been out front in covering the Ensign scandal from the start, also suggests that the Justice Department’s Pubic Integrity unit is wary of the mistakes it made in the Ted Stevens case — when a failure to hand over evidence and other missteps led to a reversal of the former Alaska senator’s conviction — and so is proceeding deliberately.
Until now, the probe had appeared to be focused on whether Ensign violated lobbying laws in trying to secure a lobbying job, and clients, for Doug Hampton, after Hampton had left Ensign’s office in the wake of the senator’s 2008 affair with Hampton’s wife. Investigators also seem to have been considering whether Ensign illegally tied promises of legislative help to contributions to the NRSC, which he chaired at the time.