It was New Year’s Eve 2009 and Republican Senator John Ensign seemed destined for political glory, maybe even a shot at the presidency. And why not? All the stars were aligning for the brash, handsome Republican superstar from Nevada. All except for one. My producer Gary Daughters and I had information that Ensign may have helped his best friend get a lobbying gig to shut him up. It didn’t take long to find out why.
Ensign had slept with his best friend’s wife. I asked him about it. In fact, I peppered him with questions. His lack of a response and his combativeness for my even asking spoke volumes.
Doug Hampton, Ensign’s best friend and chief of staff, was hurting. Hurting a lot. Wouldn’t you be too if you caught your boss and best friend having an affair with your wife?
When we reached out to Ensign’s office, the last thing I expected was that he would grant me an interview. He had to know what I knew, right? After all, it wasn’t like we picked up the story from the National Enquirer. It had already been picked up by the New York Times and the Washington Post. But nobody had asked Ensign about it fully and directly.
It was a holiday. Usually, those are slow news days. Maybe that’s why Ensign agreed to do the interview. Or maybe he thought I wouldn’t bring up such an embarrassing topic, even though he was the senator who did everything he could to impeach Bill Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky affair. Yes, that left him wide open. But that’s not why I chose to confront him about his peccadillo fully and directly.
“Aggressively” is how the interview was described in countless stories. I confronted him because I knew that he was the subject of both an ethical and legal investigation. The interview went viral overnight.
As I told Ensign, “there is a law that says that someone who is an aide for a senator like yourself has to wait one year before they start lobbying.” It’s a law that Ensign should have been certainly aware of.
I gave him the opportunity to clear the air and set the record straight. His response? “That’s his problem [Hampton’s], that’s not my problem… All that stuff will take care of itself over time…”
That “stuff” included Ensign allegedly arranging meetings for Hampton to get lobbying jobs. That “stuff” is what the law was meant to prevent.
When Ensign said, “that’s not my problem,” he clearly wasn’t thinking — just like he wasn’t thinking when he slept with Hampton’s wife and attempted to appease him by getting him lobbying jobs.
So who’s problem is it, Senator? You want to try that answer again, because yesterday you resigned, and the Senate Ethics Committee, which includes many Republicans, chose to continue its investigation. They aren’t doing that because you had a moral indiscretion. We all make mistakes. They are continuing to investigate you because of exactly what I asked you about: “public malfeasance.” The problem is whether the public can trust that you and other elected officials won’t use your lofty positions to cover your sins.
When you disconnected from reality during our interview and said that this was “his” problem, Senator Ensign, at that moment, you became America’s problem.
Luckily, your resignation solves that. And it shows you finally realized what you should have known two years ago: This isn’t someone else’s problem. This is clearly your problem.
This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post