WASHINGTON — 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, 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
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.
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
In its letter on Friday, the committee focused on Coburn's decision to meet with Hampton after he had taken a job with an airline, Allegiant Air. Federal law requires a one-year “cooling off” period before former senior aides can communicate with their former colleagues if they're trying to influence official actions; Hampton had not met the year requirement when he met with Coburn.
According to the Ethics Committee, Coburn and Hampton talked about official business, including the possibility of Allegiant resuming service in Oklahoma, but Hampton didn't ask Coburn for any favors and Coburn didn't do anything for Allegiant.
The committee said Coburn knew Hampton was “legally prohibited from requesting or participating in such a meeting.” The committee also “noted” that it was just one meeting and that Coburn has acknowledged it was wrong.
Hart, Coburn's spokesman, said the burden of complying with the ban on lobbying should be on the individuals under the ban.
“It is unfortunate the committee has impugned Dr. Coburn for their failure to provide workable guidance for a law that was passed nearly five years ago.”
Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed a complaint in the matter in 2009, said Friday that the committee “was more interested in glossing over misconduct than in actually holding a senator accountable.
“It should come as no surprise to anyone that this tepid rebuke was issued at the beginning of a holiday weekend.”