As unbelievable as it might be from today's perspective, there was a lot of presidential campaign buzz in May 2009 surrounding a trip Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., was planning to the early caucus state of Iowa.
Today, Ensign is no longer even a senator and, worse still, faces possible criminal charges in the wake of a scathing report issued Thursday by his former colleagues on Capitol Hill. Included are details not only about the former veterinarian's affair with his best friend's wife but his alleged attempts to cover it up. The report reads like a criminal investigation at times with a narrative that recalls a sleazy dime-store novel at other points. Read the full report.
"It is a cautionary tale," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Ethics Committee, said in announcing the panel's findings on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon, a highly unusual move. "It shows that our actions, all of them, have consequences."
If Ensign, 53, had not resigned earlier this month, Boxer said, he could have faced expulsion from the Senate, the harshest penalty possible. Political observers suggested that Ensign resigned to avoid such a fate.
But his resignation did not stop the panel from concluding its 22-month investigation and releasing a report that divulged the alleged details of the extramarital affair Ensign had with Cindy Hampton, the wife of his former top aide, Doug Hampton. The affair had occurred while Doug Hampton -- Ensign's best friend -- was employed by the senator, according to the report.
The Senate ethics panel alleged that the Nevada Republican tried to cover up the sex scandal, made false statements to the Federal Election Commission and violated campaign finance laws. The panel has now referred the case to both the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission.
It will not be the first time the Justice Department examines the case. An attorney for Ensign last year said he was "no longer a target" of a previous Justice Department probe into the matter.
The alleged details outlined in the new ethics report tell the story of a scandal that rocked Capitol Hill and left multiple families in tatters.
Doug Hampton learned of his wife's affair with his boss two days before Christmas 2007 when he discovered a text message from Ensign to his wife that said, "How wonderful it is. ... Scared, but excited," according to the report.
Among other allegations in the report: Doug Hampton then confronted his wife and called Ensign to let him know he was on to the affair. He even ended up chasing Ensign in an airport parking lot. The day before Christmas, the two couples met in the senator's office, where Ensign wept and apologized. Then the families met with their children.
And then they celebrated Christmas together the next day, according to the report. But the affair apparently didn't stop there.
Ensign told Cindy Hampton he wanted to marry her in early 2008 while they were attending the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, according to the report. Doug Hampton took a trip abroad that year to Iraq and Afghanistan with the senator, where another incident occurred, as Hampton described to ABC New's ''Nightline."
"I asked John, 'Hey, can I use your phone? I want to call Cindy.' He says, 'Sure.' Instead of scrolling to Cindy Hampton, he scrolls to 'Aunt Judy,' like covert, cover-up for Cindy Hampton, and I realize, wow, wow, something is seriously wrong," Hampton said.