WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. John Ensign is no longer a target in a Justice Department criminal investigation arising from his affair with a former campaign aide, attorneys for the Nevada Republican said Wednesday.
The department has been looking into whether Ensign conspired with staff aide Doug Hampton, the husband of the woman with whom Ensign was involved, to violate federal lobbying restrictions.
When Hampton found out about the affair, Ensign helped line up jobs for Hampton with campaign donors. At the same time, Ensign's parents provided the Hamptons with $96,000 that they described as a gift. Federal criminal law bars former Senate aides from lobbying in the Senate for a year after they leave their congressional jobs.
Ensign admitted in June 2009 that he had the extramarital affair, and that he helped the woman's husband obtain lobbying work with a Nevada company. Ensign said he had undertaken similar efforts for other members of his staff as they moved back into the private sector and that he had violated no law.
Jennifer Cooper, a spokeswoman for the senator, said Ensign was pleased that the department no longer viewed him as a target in the investigation and that it was his hope that the Senate Ethics Committee soon would follow suit.
"Sen. Ensign looks forward to continuing his hard work on behalf of the people of Nevada," Cooper said.
Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined to comment.
Ensign's attorneys in Dallas also sent out a news release saying they were informed by the Justice Department that it had no plans to bring any charges against Ensign in the case. Paul Coggins said he received the information in a telephone call earlier this week with a Justice Department official. Coggins also described the investigation as ongoing.
Two weeks ago, the Federal Election Commission dismissed a complaint against Ensign over the $96,000 payment his parents made to Cynthia Hampton and her family.
One watchdog group said Ensign's announcement represented a "sad day for America."
"Repeatedly, the Department of Justice has chickened out, refusing to hold politicians accountable for their deplorable actions," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
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