Report: FBI Has Contacted Witnesses On Ensign Matter

January 19, 2010 6:49 a.m.

The FBI has interviewed witnesses in connection with the John Ensign sex-and-lobbying scandal, Politico reports.

“Yes, the FBI has contacted witnesses, in this case, former aides [to Ensign]” one source tells the Beltway site. “We’ll see where it leads.”Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston also reports that, according to sources, DOJ has “taken up” a probe of Ensign.

Among those said by Politico to have been contacted is John Lopez, a former top aide to the Nevada GOP senator. Lopez, we reported last year, was forced to split chief of staff duties with Doug Hampton after Ensign brought his then-friend aboard.

The bureau appears merely to have begun a preliminary inquiry into the case. But the interviews may be a sign that it’s planning to launch a full criminal investigation into Ensign’s conduct.

At issue, primarily, are two questions. Did the $96,000 payment made by Ensign’s parents to the Hampton family, after both Doug and Cindy Hampton left Ensign’s office, constitute a gift, which would violate campaign-finance laws? And did Ensign run afoul of lobbying restrictions by directing his staff to maintain contact with Doug Hampton after setting him up as a lobbyist?

Ensign has admitted to an affair with Cindy Hampton, and has said he followed the law in handling the aftermath.

A lawyer for the senator said Ensign would release a statement later today. We’ll keep you posted.

Late Update: An Ensign spokeswoman declines to tell the AP whether the senator himself has spoken to the FBI.

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