A Federal Elections Commission official told the New York Times that the commission took former Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) at his word when he told them the $96,000 payment his parents gave to his mistress and her husband was a “gift” and not “severance,” which would have made it illegal.
As TPM pointed out last week, the Senate Ethics report on Ensign found that the Nevada Republican called the payout a “severance” in his original statement until his lawyer said that would raise criminal issues. “If this statement doesn’t get the attention of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, then nothing will,” his lawyer wrote in an email uncovered by the Ethics Committee.
Now behind the scenes, the FEC is acknowledging that it got taken.
“I hate it when people lie to us,” one FEC official told the New York Times. “If somebody submits a sworn affidavit, we usually do not go back and question it, unless we have something else to go on. Maybe we should not be so trusting.”
The FEC’s decision not to pursue a case against Ensign went against the recommendations of their general counsel.
“There is reason to believe that the payment the Ensigns made may have been severance instead of part of a pattern of giving to the Hamptons,” the general counsel’s report reads. “Further, any pattern of giving to the Hamptons appears to have been made by the Senator and his wife — not the Senator’s parents.”
Former federal prosecutor and Senate investigator Stephen M. Ryan also told the New York Times he was surprised that Ethics Committee investigators appeared to have done a more thorough job investigating the Ensign case than the Justice Department despite their relatively meager resources. Reports the newspaper:
Legal experts and others interviewed pointed out that prosecutors have a different standard than the Senate committee, which does not have to present a criminal case to a jury. But the Senate’s harsh report — contrasted with the Justice Department’s inaction — provided further evidence for those who complain that the agency has seemed skittish about taking on public officials following the fiasco that resulted from the 2008 corruption case against the late Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, which was ultimately dropped amid charges of prosecutorial misconduct.