WASHINGTON — Sen. John Ensign said Tuesday that he complied with Senate ethics rules and the law when he arranged a "soft landing" as a lobbyist for his former chief of staff, Doug Hampton – and later made calls on behalf of companies Hampton represented.
Ensign had been having an affair with the man's wife, Cynthia Hampton, who worked on the senator's campaign. Ensign later dismissed the couple from his staff.
"I recommended [Hampton] for jobs, just like I've recommended a lot of people," Ensign told CNN in a brief on-camera interview with reporters who waited outside his office on Capitol Hill. "We absolutely did nothing except for comply exactly with what the ethics laws and the ethics rules of the Senate state."
Asked whether he intended to resign, Ensign said he was focused on his work and headed to the Senate for a vote. He has stepped down from his Republican leadership post and is the subject of a preliminary ethics committee investigation. Ensign would not say whether the Justice Department had tried to contact him or his lawyer regarding any criminal investigation.
"We will cooperate with any official inquiries," he told the reporters, who followed him out of his office and to an intersection. "I am focused on doing my work," he said. "I'm gonna continue to focus on doing my work."
Republican leaders have refused to issue any kind of supportive statement for the Nevada Republican.
Sen. Tom Coburn suggested Tuesday that he's willing to testify before the Senate Ethics Committee about the scandal.
When Ensign admitted this summer that he'd had an affair with a staffer, Coburn said that he would never reveal what he and Ensign said to one another about the affair.
"I was counseling him as a physician and as an ordained deacon," Coburn said at the time. "That is privileged communication that I will never reveal to anybody. Not to the (Senate) Ethics Committee, not to a court of law, not to anybody."
But asked by a reporter Tuesday if he'd cooperate with Ethics Committee investigators looking into the Ensign scandal, Coburn said: "Will I? Sure."
Ensign's one-time presidential ambitions imploded this summer after disclosures about the affair – including reports of his own efforts to hide it by finding a consulting and lobbying job for Hampton and making phone calls on behalf of Hampton's clients.
Ensign's parents arranged for a $96,000 payment to the couple, who were dismissed from the senator's staff.
Federal criminal law prohibits congressional aides from lobbying their ex-bosses or office colleagues for one year after departing their jobs on the Hill.
Ensign did not deny having spoken with Hampton within the one-year limit. The law, Ensign said, "doesn't mean you don't talk to them. You can talk to anybody."
The law prohibits talking about clients and their interests.
"Oh I never met with Doug Hampton about any of that stuff," Ensign said.