WASHINGTON — Sen. John Ensign of Nevada was only beginning to emerge from a self-imposed political exile over fallout from his extramarital affair with a campaign aide. Now, new details about the case are raising questions about whether Ensign can be re-elected in 2012 — or even if he will face criminal charges.
If Ensign was looking for signs of support among Republican leaders on Capitol Hill on Friday, he didn't get any. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell declined repeatedly to answer questions about Ensign or offer any support. Other Republicans also met the latest developments with silence.
Ensign's one-time presidential ambitions imploded last summer after disclosures about the affair — including reports of his own efforts to hide it by finding a consulting and lobbying job for his mistress' husband, Doug Hampton, arranging for a $96,000 payment to the couple and doling out a promotion and pay raises to his mistress around the time of the affair.
After keeping a low profile, he had started to play a more visible role on Capitol Hill in recent weeks. But he is making himself scarce again after the New York Times reported that he helped Hampton find work as a lobbyist and that Hampton lobbied Ensign on behalf of his clients. Hampton told the newspaper that he and Ensign were aware of a ban on Hampton's lobbying his former boss or Ensign's staff, but chose to ignore it.
Federal criminal law prohibits congressional aides from lobbying their ex-bosses or office colleagues for one year after departing their jobs.
"If the aide's actions violate one of the federal criminal statutes relating to lobbying, the question is whether there's potential conspiracy for the senator," said Lance Cole, a law professor at Penn State University.