ABC's Jason Ryan reports:
A Capitol Hill soap opera got another twist Thursday when a former staffer with whose wife Sen. Jon Ensign, R-Nev., had an affair, was charged by a Washington, DC grand jury with violating conflict of interest laws.
Doug Hampton has been public and vocal in his criticism of Ensign, his former boss, casting himself as a whistleblower. Hampton worked in Ensign’s office from January 2007 to April 2008, until his wife Cindy Hampton was at the center of a sex scandal for an affair she had with Sen. Ensign. The affair had been ongoing while Hampton had been employed in Sen. Ensign’s office.
Ensign paid the Hampton’s a severance and Hampton got a job lobbying for several Nevada companies. Hampton says he got the job lobbying with help from Ensign.
But now it is Hampton who is charged with violating the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act which prohibits lobbying contacts and activities by former Senate staff for over 1 year.
Hampton told his story to Nightline in 2009. Watch that report HERE.
According to Thursday’s indictment, Hampton obtained employment as a government affairs consultant for Allegiant Air and NV Energy shortly after leaving the Senator’s office and days after leaving emailed a legislative aide in Ensign’s office.
In 2009 the New York Times obtained email messages that Hampton said implicated Ensign for trying to get him a lobbying job.
The Justice Department had been investigating Ensign and allegations that Ensign made improper payments to the Hamptons. It is unclear if Ensign had helped Hampton obtain his employment after he left his Senate office. Although Sen. Ensign is not named in the indictment he is referred to as Senator A, government records show that Hampton was employed in Ensign’s office.
Good government groups cried foul that Hampton – not Ensign – was targeted by the Justice Department.
“It is an outrage that the Justice Department would choose to only prosecute Doug Hampton and not his well documented co-conspirator Senator John Ensign,” said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “The DOJ has wiped away any doubt that you really can get away with almost anything as long as you happen to be a high-ranking government official. The message from the DOJ is clear: if you work for the government, and you know your boss is engaged in wrongdoing, keep your mouth shut.”
A concurrent investigation is underway by the Senate Ethics Committee. Ensign has indicated he will not seek reelection in 2012.
According to the federal indictment, “On or about May 6, 2008…Douglas Hampton knowingly and willfully, with the intent to influence, made a communication, to wit, an email to Staffer A, an officer or employee of Senator A, on behalf of Hampton’s client, the Airline Company., in connection with a matter on which Hampton sought action by Senator A and Staffer A in their official capacity.”
The indictment further alleges, “Hampton sought the assistance…in convincing the Department of Transportation to reconsider its position on a fuel surcharge pricing issue.”
In the months that followed Hampton also allegedly sought to get assistance from Ensign’s office to delay or with withdraw an enforcement action by the Department of Transportation relating to fees from Allegiant’s website.
According to the indictment on July 17, 2008 Hampton allegedly sent an email to Ensign’s chief of staff to get the Department of Transportation to “back [off] of [its] timetable and any penalties or fines.”
In the work for NV Energy the indictment alleges that in December 2008 Hampton sought to seek an expedited review by the Department of Interior of an environmental impact statement that was being performed on a project that NV Energy was seeking to proceed on for a coal fired power plant.
Hampton is also charged with trying to arrange a meeting with the Secretary of Transportation and top management from Allegiant air, “Specifically, Hampton sought the assistance of Senator A and Staffer B [Ensign’s chief of staff] in scheduling a meeting in March 2009 involving the Secretary of Transportation and executives from [Allegiant].”
Earlier this month Sen. Ensign announced that he would not seek re-election. Late last year the Justice Department decided not to bring a case against Ensign, a Senate Ethics probe remains ongoing.
Daniel Albregts, an attorney for Hampton, declined to comment about the indictment when his office was contacted by ABC News.