In this Oct. 13, 2009 photo, then-Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Senate Ethics Committee has referred the case of Ensign to the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission.
WASHINGTON — Former Sen. John Ensign of Nevada broke federal law, made false statements to the Federal Election Commission and obstructed a Senate Ethics Committee's investigation into his conduct, the panel said Thursday in a scathing report that sent the matter to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.
The former Republican lawmaker "created a web of deceit that entangled and compromised numerous people," the committee said, adding that it had assembled enough evidence to warrant possible expulsion had Ensign not resigned.
Ensign quit his seat effective May 3, one day before he was to have testified under oath about an affair with the wife of a top aide, the aide's subsequent lobbying of Ensign's office and a payment from Ensign's parents to the onetime aide's family.
The committee also asked the FEC to conduct its own investigation.
"The special counsel is confident that the evidence that would have been presented in an adjudicatory hearing would have been substantial and sufficient to warrant the consideration of the sanction of expulsion," the report said, citing the recommendation of a former prosecutor hired by the committee to help in the investigation.
The report added that while "concealment is part of the anatomy of an affair, the concealment conduct ... by Senator Ensign exceeded the normal acts of discretion."
Committee chairman Barbara Boxer told the Senate in a speech, "When Sen. Ensign resigned he said and I quote, 'I have not violated any law, rule or standard of conduct.' I want to go on record ... to say how strongly I disagree with that statement."
The Senate cannot punish a member no longer serving, but the referrals ensure that investigation of Ensign will go on for some time. Ensign's lawyers had announced last December that the Justice Department was no longer targeting him.
Ensign has acknowledged an affair with Cynthia Hampton, a former campaign treasurer. She's the wife of Douglas Hampton, who was Ensign's co-chief of staff.
The investigation has focused on at least two developments that followed disclosure of the affair.
Ensign's parents paid the Hampton family $96,000, raising the question of whether the money was an illegal contribution to the senator's campaign. Douglas Hampton said the money was a severance payment.
Another focus was Ensign's connection to Douglas Hampton's work as a lobbyist for two Nevada firms after he left Ensign's staff. Federal law prohibits a senior Senate aide from lobbying the Senate for one year after ending employment.