WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Ethics Committee admonished Republican Sen. Tom Coburn on Friday over his contact with a top aide to former Sen. John Ensign, the Nevada lawmaker who resigned in disgrace last year after lying about his affair with the staffer's wife.
In a letter released Friday, the six-member panel said Coburn's communications with Doug Hampton and his actions on behalf of the former administrative assistant “were improper conduct which reflects on the Senate.” The committee said the contact warranted a public letter of qualified admonition. Specifically, the committee said a meeting between the two violated the Senate rule barring contact on legislative matters within the first year of a staffer's departure, commonly known as the “cooling off period.”
In issuing the letter, the panel said it considers the matter closed.
Ensign, a Nevada Republican, quit May 3, 2011, one day before he was to have testified under oath to the Senate Ethics committee about his affair with Cynthia Hampton, her husband Doug Hampton's subsequent lobbying of Ensign's office and a payment from Ensign's parents to the one-time aide's family.
In 2008, Hampton received a $96,000 gift from Ensign's parents, and an earlier Ethics Committee report cast Coburn as participating in subsequent, unsuccessful negotiations in May 2009 over a far larger amount. Coburn, R-Okla., has disputed the report.
In its letter, the committee said Coburn had a personal friendship with Doug Hampton and knew that he was no longer a Senate employee. Yet Coburn agreed to a meeting with Hampton less than one year later that involved discussion of legislative issues.
“Your relationship with Mr. Hampton provided you with a basis to have known he was engaging in prohibited post-employment communications when he contacted you and scheduled the March 11, 2009, meeting on behalf of his employer, Allegiant Air,” the committee wrote.
In deciding on a qualified admonition, the committee said it took into account the fact that Coburn and Hampton's prohibited contact was limited to one meeting, and that the senator has acknowledged that he was wrong and should have been more careful.
“While the committee did not find that your conduct constituted actionable violations of criminal law, the committee believes that senators are obligated to meet a higher standard,” the panel wrote.
Although the panel cited one meeting during Hampton's “cooling off period” of May 2, 2008 to May 1, 2009, it described a close relationship between Coburn and the former staffer.