20 jun. 2009

The Moral War Of God's Own Pacesetters

partial transcript:
MADDOW: Late in the day on Tuesday, when Nevada Senator John Ensign called a press conference in Las Vegas, the news that he was announcing he‘d had an affair registered about a 4.0, say, on the political Richter scale. Significant damage unlikely, though you may sense some moderate shaking. That‘s how it felt initially. Not that big a deal.
But it turns out this wasn‘t a short sharp shock. It turns out this is one of those prolong earthquake experiences in which the aftershocks do way more damage than the initial ka-chunk. The initial announcement from Ensign, backed up by a statement by his office, was that the senator had conducted an affair from December 2007 through August of last year with a campaign staffer who was married to a man who worked in his Senate office.
So, both the woman he was sleeping with and the man she was married to were on Ensign‘s payroll. A personal failure to be sure, which the senator himself proclaimed, and an ethical fiasco given that both of these people work for him. Also, a hypocrisy problem, given Senator Ensign‘s demand that President Clinton resign because of his affair with Monica Lewinsky and Senator Ensign‘s demands for the resignation of Larry Craig, after Senator Craig got nabbed in the famous wide stance in the men‘s room public sex sting.
But the personal failure, the ethical issue and hypocrisy problem were all evident right away on Tuesday. Those were the initial shock.
The aftershocks? The subsequent reporting about this scandal?
They‘ve been even worse.
NBC News has reported that on the day he announced that he‘d had the affair, Senator Ensign explained to other senators that the reason he was coming forward about the affair now was because his ex-mistress was trying to extort money from him. The same claim always anonymous, but remarkably similar in language and tone was made to “The Associated Press,” FOX News, Politico.com, “The Las Vegas Review Journal” and “The New York Times.” This claim that his ex-mistress‘ husband was also a former employee of Senator Ensign had demanded a substantial such money from the senator and that‘s what prompted his public revelation.
Here‘s the problem with that claim: extortion is a felony. Extortion of the United States senator is the kind of felony that‘s likely to get a lot of law enforcement attention. But local authorities in Las Vegas and the FBI claim that no reports of an extortion attempt were ever made to them, nor are they investigating any claims of extortion against Senator Ensign specifically.
Today, as picked up on by Zachary Roth at TPM Muckraker, the extortion claim was replaced by another still anonymous claim sourced this time to Senator Ensign‘s staffers that the reason the senator had to go public now was because his ex-mistress and her husband were not trying to extort money -- that‘s old story—the new story is that they had approached a television news network about publicizing the affair. And that‘s why he had to go public now.
The shifting of anonymous explanations for the senator‘s timing and coming forward were emerging today alongside new details about the employment history of the senator‘s ex-mistress and the employment history of her family. In 2007, when her affair with Senator Ensign began, Cynthia Hampton was employed at Ensign‘s Battle Born Political Action Committee. She was earning about $1,400 a month. Once the affair with the senator got under way, her salary was doubled to nearly $2,800 a month.
At the same time, Ms. Hampton was also employed by Ensign‘s campaign committee. Again, around the time the affair began, her salary at the campaign committee doubled, from $500 a month to $1,000 a month.
Even more remarkably, during the time that Senator Ensign and Cynthia Hampton were having an affair, John Ensign was the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. That‘s the part of the Republican Party responsible for electing and re-electing Republican senators.
For the record, depending on how the Coleman-Franken thing turns out, while Ensign was at the helm of the NRSC, the Republican Party lost eight, maybe nine seats in the Senate.
But anyway, while he was head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and while he was caring on an affair with Cynthia Hampton, the National Republican Senatorial Committee found it in its heart to also put Mrs. Hampton‘s 19-year-old son on the Republican Party‘s payroll. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, then chaired by John Ensign, paid his mistress‘ 19-year-old son $5,400 over a period that started four months into the affair, between Senator Ensign and this young man‘s mother, and ending the month that the affair ended.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee today confirmed to us that Cynthia Hampton‘s 19-year-old son was listed on the organization‘s expenditures. They then referred all further questions to Senator Ensign‘s office.
For the record, the 19-year-old was supposedly paid for research policy consulting.
Despite the involvement in this scandal now of the actual Republican Party and its fundraising and campaign arms, Republican senators are not exactly falling all over themselves to weigh in on the matter. Senator Kyl said, “I‘m not going to say anything.” Senator Grassley said, “It would be intellectually dishonest for me to comment.”
Senator Gregg said, “It‘s a personal matter.” Senator Crapo said, “I‘m going to reserve comment.” Senator Collin said, “I don‘t have a comment right now.”
Senator Vitter, he said, “I‘m late.” He actually said, “I‘m late.”
Senator Vitter.
The John Ensign scandal, it seems, is just getting started. It Republican senators try to ignore this the way they‘ve tried to ignore David Vitter after his prostitution problem, does that mean that the Democrats can pass any old gay rights legislation they want without fear of Family Values moralizing from the “wide stance” side of the aisle?

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