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Disgraced Senator Ensign may face criminal charges

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2011 (AFP) – Former U.S. senator John Ensign on Thursday faced possible criminal prosecution in connection to a sex-and-corruption scandal that led the Republican ex-lawmaker to resign on May 3.

The U.S. Senate Ethics Committee said in a report that its 22-month investigation into the flap, sparked by Ensign’s affair with the wife of one of his aides, found “substantial credible evidence” of law-breaking.

The panel, which cannot punish former lawmakers, referred the case to the U.S. Department of Justice and the US Federal Elections Commission and said Ensign could have faced expulsion from the senate over the allegations.

The committee said it had evidence Ensign had helped his former aide violate restrictions on ex-staffers lobbying the Senate, made false statements, and potentially obstructed justice by destroying key documents.

It also said a portion of a $96,000 gift from Ensign’s parents to his former mistress, Cindy Hampton, and her husband Doug Hampton, may have amounted to an improper campaign contribution.

Ensign, 53, announced on April 21 that he was resigning as senator from Nevada because the investigation threatened to exact “simply too great” an emotional toll on him and his family, and denied wrongdoing.

“I stand behind my firm belief that I have not violated any law, rule, or standard of conduct of the Senate, and I have fought to prove this publicly,” he said in a statement.

But the ethics committee, while saying it had been “careful not to seek intimate details” of the affair, delivered a scathing appraisal of Ensign’s conduct.

“Although concealment is part of the anatomy of an affair, the concealment conduct in this case by Senator Ensign exceeded the normal acts of discretion and created a web of deceit that entangled and compromised numerous people,” it said.

The committee said that, had Ensign not resigned, the case against him “would have been substantial and sufficient to warrant the consideration of the sanction of expulsion.”

The report includes a few tawdry details — the husband chasing Ensign around an airport parking lot shortly after discovering the affair — and a memorable admonishment from the former senator’s long-time spiritual adviser while Ensign and Cindy Hampton wereapparently at a hotel together.

“Mr. Coe called Senator Ensign and stated ‘I know exactly where you are. I know exactly what you are doing. Put your pants on and go home,'” according to the report.

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