POLITICS

Ensign Whacked Clinton For His Infidelities, Called Them "Embarrassing" For Country

07/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Jan 17, 2013

Sen. John Ensign's admission late Tuesday that he had an extramarital affair with a campaign staffer over the course of nine months doesn't seem likely to cause the type of wall-to-wall coverage that similar marital slip-ups have in the past.

But it should, at the very least, re-open the longstanding debate over how much attention should be paid to a politician's personal life. And when it comes to this topic, Ensign's own record of denouncing the affairs and misconducts of other pols could come back to haunt him.

During the height of the scandal surrounding Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, the Nevada Republican denounced the president's conduct as "an embarrassing moment for the country."

'I think we have to feel very sad for the American people and Hillary and Chelsea,' he said.

Weeks later, Ensign would call on Clinton to resign. "I came to that conclusion recently, and frankly it's because of what he put his whole Cabinet through and what he has put the country through," he was quoted saying at the time. "He has no credibility left," he added.

At the time, Ensign was in a tight Senate race with incumbent Harry Reid, an election he would ultimately end up losing. And he didn't shy away from trying to exploit the moral trip-ups in Clinton's personal life to benefit himself and the GOP.

"It could have a dramatic effect on Democrats like (President Nixon's resignation after the Watergate scandal) had on Republicans in 1974," he said, according to a local AP article from September 14, 1998.

In fact, not only did Ensign envision the Lewinksy affair as a political boon for Republicans, he actively made it an issue in his campaign against Reid. At one point during the campaign, Ensign accused his opponent of having a double standard when it came to politicians and sexual dalliances. Reid, he argued, had been much tougher on former Sen. Robert Packwood -- who resigned from the Senate under allegations of sexual harassment -- than he was with Clinton.

"Before there were hearings on Packwood, Reid said he would vote for his expulsion," Ensign declared, the day after calling for Clinton's resignation. "In 1998, he says we have to wait until all the facts come out on Clinton."

To be fair, Ensign has taken a tough tone with regard to the sexual misconduct of members of his own party also. In 2007, he called fellow Republican Sen. Larry Craig a disgrace and urged the Idaho Republican to resign after Craig was arrested for disorderly conduct after allegedly soliciting sex in an airport men's room.

But that issue was framed as a matter of law, not morality. And Ensign was not as tough when it came to Sen. David Vitter's alleged solicitation of prostitutes.

"That's one of the things that I'm proudest about our leadership is the swift action, not only calling for an immediate Senate investigation, ethics investigation, removing him from his committees but also sending the signal to him that it was probably best that he resign," Ensign said to ABC about the Craig matter at the time. As for Vitter, he added, "he has not admitted to anything. The Senate Ethics Committee would have no jurisdiction over him."

In June 2006, Ensign voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have limited marriage in the United States to unions of one man and one woman.

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