Nearly five years after he first learned his wife was having an affair with Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), former Senate staffer Doug Hampton was sentenced on Wednesday to one year probation for violating a revolving door law that prevents staffers from lobbying within a year of leaving office.
The 50-year-old Hampton was originally charged with seven felonies but reached a deal with federal prosecutors that allowed him to plea guilty to a simple misdemeanor.Hampton told U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell that he wanted to “express my apologies for the choices and decisions that I made” and asked for the judge’s kindness at a hearing on Wednesday. Howell told Hampton he was “betrayed by your friend and by your wife,” and called his story a “sordid” tale before sentencing him to one year probation.
But even though a Senate Ethics report found there was “substantial credible evidence” that Ensign conspired to violate the very lobbying restrictions that Hampton was charged with breaking, the Nevada Republican never faced charges himself. While it’s been clear for awhile that Ensign was never going to be indicted, the closure of the Hampton case makes that a near certainty.
“It’s not surprising that Hampton didn’t get any jail time — the sentencing guidelines didn’t call for it — it’s outrageous that he’s the only one ever prosecuted in the whole affair,” Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told TPM. “Hampton was the only one who was honest about anything, and certainly it’s incomprehensible how Ensign walked away clean.”
The Justice Department had already closed out its investigation into Ensign before the Senate Ethics report was released in March 2011. Later in 2011, the Justice Department said it was evaluating the evidence presented by the Ethics Committee, but there could have been issues using much of the evidence in court because communications from lawmakers are protected by the “speech and debate” clause of the Constitution.
Sloan said she doesn’t believe the “speech and debate” clause would keep federal prosecutors from bringing a case.
“I’m very cognizant of ‘speech and debate’ issues, ‘speech and debate’ issues are huge, but I don’t think ‘speech or debate’ issues are in any way involved in whether you help someone set up a lobbying business, because that’s not the kind of legislative action that’s considered in the scope of the clause,” Sloan said.
“There seemed to me to be a plethora of evidence including documents published by the New York Times that would have given prosecutors enough to at least indict Ensign,” Sloan continued.
Besides the revolving door law violations, the Ethics Committee report found that Ensign had dubbed a payment his parents gave to the Hampton family a “severance” payment until a lawyer told him that wouldn’t be a great idea because it could be considered a donation to his campaign. The report found that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) helped negotiate the payment to the Hamptons.
DOJ’s Public Integrity Unit has “been doing a terrible job,” Sloan said. “I have no excuse for their lousy record, I don’t know how to explain it.” DOJ has previously declined to comment on the case and a DOJ spokeswoman had no immediate comment on Wednesday.