You are hereLas Vegas Review-Journal: Ensign's former aide faces federal charges

Las Vegas Review-Journal: Ensign's former aide faces federal charges

March 27, 2011- Doug Hampton, newly indicted on conflict-of-interest charges, all but handed a clear case to federal prosecutors in revealing he had conducted business as a Senate lobbyist within weeks of leaving a Capitol Hill job, according to attorneys following the case.

Hampton's aim was to draw attention to Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., his former boss and close friend-turned-foe, who he said was complicit in a scheme to evade federal lobbying restrictions.

But an indictment filed Thursday in Washington targeted only Hampton, 48, a former Las Vegas resident and a central figure in the long-running Ensign scandal, on seven counts of breaking the law.

"It's the old adage that before you start throwing stones, you better make sure your own affairs are in order," said Douglas McNabb, a veteran Washington defense lawyer. "By lashing out, he drew attention to what he wanted, but it also drew attention to what he didn't want, and that was for the FBI to look at him."

But as Hampton, a top aide to Ensign until the senator slept with his wife, faces prosecution, some attorneys ask: Why not Ensign also, or members of his staff who were on the receiving end of Hampton emails seeking help for lobbying clients named in the indictment?

Las Vegas defense attorney Charles Kelly, a former federal prosecutor, said it doesn't make any sense that only Hampton was charged.

"These are conspiratorial-type allegations, and yet they've only indicted one party," Kelly said. "It seems unfair at the very least. It certainly doesn't comport with the Justice Department policies of letting the evidence dictate the indictment and where it leads."

Kelly said the case "makes the common man question why the underling gets indicted and the superior doesn't."


Ensign, 52, who is still being investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee on the matter, has denied breaking any laws or violating any ethics rules, though he has apologized for his moral lapse.

In December, Ensign's attorneys said they were told Justice Department investigators had completed their probe of the senator and were not pursuing charges, comments the department signaled were accurate.

Some experts debated whether investigators might have been blocked from accessing documents from Ensign's office or from being able to use them as evidence. It could be argued they fall under the speech or debate clause in the Constitution, which prevents lawmakers and their aides from facing legal actions related to their official duties.

"You have to wonder if Justice was aware of that, and is that the reason they were not able to pursue anything against (Ensign)," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a self-described conservative, nonpartisan legal watchdog.

"Are those emails arguably part of that? Is the evidence they have that would hold Ensign to account or convict him the type of evidence that might be kept out by a court under the speech or debate clause exemption?

"There may be stuff (investigators) have that is damning but they can't use," Fitton said.

Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor, said the constitutional issue might have played a limited role in the investigation, but she doubted it was a reason Ensign was not charged.

"Violating the lobbying ban is not about legislative acts; it is about something you did afterwards.

"Violating the lobbying ban itself is not in the legislative sphere," said Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed ethics complaints against Ensign in the case.

Sloan said she was puzzled why prosecutors stopped short.




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