Why Did John Ensign Commit Legal Suicide?

Much of the scathing Senate Ethics Committee report released earlier this month accusing former senator John Ensign of violating campaign laws was based on more than 1,000 pages of potentially privileged emails that he willingly handed over for no apparent reason, according to Reuters.

Before the report, Ensign appeared to be in the clear as far as criminal charges went. Despite the fact that there was credible evidence that he used campaign funds—including a $96,000 gift from his parents that Senate investigators said ought to have been reported to the Federal Election Commission—as hush money to keep his mistress Cynthia Hampton and her cuckolded husband Doug Hampton quiet about their affair, the Department of Justice cleared him and the FEC declined to investigate. All that was left was a meaningless report from a toothless Senate committee. And then, says Reuters' Murray Waas, Ensign basically gave himself up:

As Ensign was preparing to leave the Senate, investigators for the Senate Ethics Committee were attempting at the 11th hour to obtain a trove of email correspondence concerning the payments to the Hamptons. The trouble for the committee was that Ensign's attorneys insisted the emails were privileged.

The committee had unsuccessfully battled for 18 months to obtain them.

A Reuters examination of the Ensign probe shows the case then took a sudden turn: Ensign reversed course and handed over more than 1,000 sensitive emails between himself and his attorneys and other top advisers. The decision "puzzled" congressional investigators who thought they would never see the emails and baffled even most of his own closest advisers, say people close to the case.

Among the emails was a smoking gun, highlighted by the Ethics Committee report, showing that Ensign's attorney had repeatedly warned him not to refer to the $96,000 gift to the Hamptons, both of whom worked for Ensign, as "severance pay." At issue was whether the money was simply a gift or part of the Hamptons' compensation. If it was the latter, then Ensign was using what amounted to unreported campaign donations to keep the Hamptons quiet about the affair. As John Edwards is learning, that's a no-no.

The Justice Department had tried to obtain the emails, but took Ensign's attorneys at their word that they were privileged, and closed its investigation without having seen them. But Senate investigators threatened to sue to get them, and—instead of spending years fighting it in court—Ensign caved, apparently over the objections of his own staff.

Now, Waas says, after seeing the Senate report, federal prosecutors are taking a fresh look at the case. John Ensign is a stupid, stupid man.

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