This week Sen. John Ensign announced that he would remain in the Senate and insisted that he had not “done anything legally wrong.” He also rejected analogies to Bill Clinton, who he voted to convict in his Senate trial.
Ensign’s statement is fascinating from a legal standpoint. First, while the Clinton analogy is getting widespread play, he is right — it is different. Clinton supporters continue to portray the impeachment as based on his affair with an intern. It was not. It was based on his lying under oath. In fairness to Ensign’s critics, Ensign is partially responsible for opening himself up for criticism because he himself muddied the waters over the basis for the impeachment in the following statement:
“President Clinton stood right before the American people and he lied to the American people,” Ensign said. “You remember that famous day he lied to the American people, plus the fact I thought he suborned perjury. That’s why I voted for the articles of impeachment.”
He also insisted that “the truth must come out” in demanding the type of full disclosure that he is now avoiding in his personal scandal.
I supported the impeachment (despite supporting Clinton) because I believe that perjury on any subject remains a serious crime for the president. No one ever suggested that an affair warranted impeachment — a preposterous position.
Second, he is not entirely right about the legality of his affair. Ironically, Republicans have largely defended criminal morals laws. Many states had (and some continue to have) laws criminalizing adultery. While Nevada seems the least likely state to criminalize adultery, the affair took place in the Northeast and possible Virginia. Virginia has had a long criminal provision on adultery and a few years ago prosecuted a lawyer for adultery. For a column on that case and criticism of such laws, click here. In my view, these laws are unconstitutional. Indeed, Sen. Ensign should now be more sympathetic with citizens who have had their private sexual relations criminalized.
After receiving a bizarre standing ovation from the Chamber of Commerce (which appears to view adultery as an inspiring credential), Ensign called the matter simply a “distraction.”
That appears to have been how his parents treated the matter when they wrote checks to Cynthia Hampton and her husband Doug worth $96,000.
Nevertheless, it will be interesting if he runs on the slogan “John Ensign: Legally Immoral for Over Six Years.” Indeed, he could get Barbara Mandrell to sign the new Ensign campaign song: “How Can It Be [Legally] Wrong When It Feels So Right.”
For the full story, click here.