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Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn draws admonishment in Ensign scandal

Senate Ethics Committee says Sen. Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, should not have met with Ensign's former top aide when the aide was still under a lobbying ban; Coburn spokesman calls the criticism gratuitous
by Chris Casteel Published: May 25, 2012

— The Senate Ethics Committee publicly admonished Sen. Tom Coburn on Friday for an aspect of his role in the scandal that led to the resignation last year of Sen. John Ensign.

The committee said Coburn should not have met with Ensign's former top aide when the aide still was barred by law from lobbying members of Congress.

Coburn, R-Muskogee, did not violate the law or Senate rules by discussing business with Doug Hampton in Washington three years ago, the committee said. But the committee told Coburn, who has been in the Senate since 2005, that the meeting was “improper conduct” that did not meet the “higher standards expected of a U.S. senator.”

John Hart, a spokesman for Coburn, called the committee's criticism “gratuitous.” A watchdog group that filed a complaint against Coburn for the meeting called the committee's action “a tepid rebuke.”

The Ethics Committee also admonished the top aide to Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, for arranging a meeting with Hampton. And the committee issued “guidance” to Senate employees about the need to avoid official communication with people under a lobbying ban.

Report details

Coburn and Ensign shared an apartment with other lawmakers when Ensign, a Nevada Republican, began an affair with Hampton's wife. Hampton was then Ensign's chief of staff, while Hampton's wife worked for Ensign's campaign.

Coburn was among those who tried to stop the affair; he also served as a go-between when Hampton, who had been fired, was seeking financial restitution from Ensign. Coburn's role in that part of the affair was the subject of media and Ethics Committee scrutiny. Last May, the committee's report on the Ensign scandal detailed many of Coburn's actions but alleged no wrongdoing.

Ensign resigned last May, just before the Ethics Committee report was released.

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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