John Lopez, the former chief of staff to Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) who was a key witness in the case against Ensign compiled by the Senate Ethics Committee and its special counsel, agreed to cooperate with the investigation only after the Justice Department granted him immunity from prosecution.
The special counsel working with the Senate Ethics Committee applied for immunity for both Lopez and Doug Hampton, the former Ensign staffer with whose wife Ensign had the affair that ended his Senate career. The Justice Department didn’t agree initially to either request but eventually dropped its opposition to granting immunity to Lopez. Federal prosecutors ultimately indicted Hampton for violating conflict of interest laws.
The report concludes that Lopez’s contacts with Doug Hampton after he left the Senator’s office and began lobbying on behalf of clients were improper. From the report (which mentions Lopez’s name 232 times):
Senator Ensign agreed with Mr. Hampton and Mr. Lopez, to have Mr. Lopez be the point person for Mr. Hampton’s contacts with the Senator’s office in order to provide Mr. Hampton with the necessary assistance for his lobbying efforts during his post-employment period, and not for the purpose of making certain that Mr. Hampton complied with lobbying restrictions.
The Senate Ethics Committee also discovered contemporaneous emails which showed Ensign “agreed to and encouraged the improper contacts between Mr. Hampton and Mr. Lopez.” Lopez told investigators that Ensign wanted him to assist Hampton because the Senator “wanted it out of sight, out of mind,” so that Lopez could take heat on the Senator’s behalf.
It was Lopez who told investigators that he was surprised when he was hired by Ensign as chief of staff because the Senator preferred the company of “alpha males.”
When he started working with Hampton to boost his lobbying career after he left office, Lopez said he had reservations about what he was doing.
I just wanted to mention that when the Senator asked me to do that, I really felt like this is wrong. I remember really feeling like that was abusing the office, you know, cutting someone off from official action because he didn’t hire [Hampton], I thought I had qualms about what I was asked to do.
Lopez told investigators that Ensign was well aware of the fact that Mr. Lopez was helping Mr. Hampton with his client matters, but that he did not want to know the details of that assistance,” according to the report. “I don’t know if [Senator Ensign] knew exactly what kind of communications [Hampton] was having with the office, and I just don’t think he wanted to know,” Lopez said. “So that was my understanding of kind of our agreement at the time.”