Ensign: I Followed Ethics Laws When I Helped Clients Of Mistress’s Husband

The John Ensign story is back on the front-burner, thanks to last week’s New York Times report that the philandering Nevada senator actively helped Doug Hampton, the husband of his former mistress, get set up as a lobbyist, then acted to benefit Hampton’s new clients.

Today brought several new developments:• Ensign, a Republican, told CNN, in an on-the-street interview: “We absolutely did nothing except for comply exactly with what the ethics laws and the ethics rules of the Senate state.” And he reiterated to CNN what a spokeswoman told us: “We are going to cooperate with any official inquiries.”

• Sen. Tom Coburn, who at a February 2008 meeting urged Ensign to end the affair, appeared to flip-flop on the question of whether he’d cooperate with the Senate Ethics committee’s probe of the matter. Asked by a reporter today whether he would talk to the committee, he replied: “Will I? Sure.” This summer, he had specifically ruled that out, saying: “I was counseling [Ensign] as a physician and as an ordained deacon. That is privileged communication that I will never reveal to anybody. Not to the [Senate] Ethics Committee, not to a court of law, not to anybody.”

• The good-government group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, which this summer filed formal complaints with the Justice Department and the Ethics committee about the Ensign matter, announced that it had added supplemental material to those complaints, in light of the New York Times story.

• Meanwhile, Ensign’s fellow Nevada senator, Majority Leader Harry Reid, is still calling the issue, through a spokesman, a “personal matter” — though it now concerns clear allegations that Ensign knowingly flouted Senate lobbying rules — and won’t even say he supports the Ethics committee probe. Reid’s stance is likely influenced by the long-standing “gentlemen’s agreement” he’s said to have had with Ensign since 2000, which forbids either man from publicly criticizing the other. That deal may serve both men well, but it puts a crimp in Democrats’ efforts to ensure Ensign is held accountable for what looks like clear wrong-doing.