The Senate Ethics Committee has voted to refer the case of former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) to the U.S. Justice Department. Committee members said today they found evidence that Ensign violated federal lobbying restrictions, obstructed justice and broke other laws.
The committee's action comes three months after it took the rare step of bringing in a special counsel for the investigation, and committee members are crediting the special counsel, K&L Gates partner Carol Elder Bruce, with successfully completing their inquiry.
Ensign has already hired a team of lawyers to defend himself. They include Chadbourne & Parke partner Abbe Lowell, who has represented numerous members of Congress, and Robert Walker, of counsel at Wiley Rein, who is a former staff director of the Senate Ethics Committee.
Click here for a 12-page document from Ensign’s lawyers rebutting the special counsel’s report and arguing that Ensign has already sanctioned himself by resigning from office.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the ethics committee, said in a speech on the Senate floor that the committee’s vote to refer Ensign was unanimous. During the course of the investigation, she said the committee’s staff deposed or interviewed 72 witnesses, issued 32 subpoenas for documents and reviewed half a million pages of materials.
Bruce came to the Ensign case with significant experience in investigations of public officials, as The National Law Journal reported in February. Under the old system of “independent counsel” inquiries, she worked on probes into former Republican Attorney General Edwin Meese III and former Democratic Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.
Boxer said that Bruce’s assistance in the Ensign matter was “extraordinary.” Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), the vice chairman of the ethics committee, said that of all his interactions with lawyers, he had “never known anyone more professional” than Bruce.
By David Ingram and Mike Scarcella