WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is no longer targeting Sen. John Ensign in a criminal investigation arising from his affair with a former campaign aide and has no plans to charge him, attorneys for the Nevada Republican said Wednesday.
The department has been looking into whether Ensign conspired with staff aide Doug Hampton, the husband of the woman with whom Ensign was involved, to violate federal lobbying restrictions.
When Hampton found out about the affair, Ensign helped line up jobs for Hampton with campaign donors. Federal criminal law bars former Senate aides from lobbying in the Senate for a year after they leave their congressional jobs.
At around the same time, Ensign's parents provided the Hamptons with $96,000 that they described as a gift.
Ensign admitted in June 2009 that he had the extramarital affair, and that he helped Cynthia Hampton's husband obtain lobbying work with a Nevada company. Ensign said he had undertaken similar efforts for other members of his staff as they moved back into the private sector and that he had violated no law.
Jennifer Cooper, a spokeswoman for the senator, said Ensign was pleased that the department no longer viewed him as a target in the investigation and that it was his hope that the Senate Ethics Committee soon would follow suit.
"Sen. Ensign looks forward to continuing his hard work on behalf of the people of Nevada," Cooper said.
Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined to comment.
Ensign's attorney, Paul Coggins, said he received the information about the Justice Department no longer targeting Ensign in a telephone call earlier this week with a department official. Coggins also described the investigation as ongoing.
Two weeks ago, the Federal Election Commission dismissed a complaint against Ensign over the $96,000 payment his parents made to Cynthia Hampton and her family.
One watchdog group said Ensign's announcement represented a "sad day for America."
"Repeatedly, the Department of Justice has chickened out, refusing to hold politicians accountable for their deplorable actions," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Ensign has said the affair began during a rocky time in his marriage in December 2007 and continued until August 2008. Cynthia and Doug Hampton left their jobs in May 2008.
Ensign lost a leadership post with Senate Republicans after he disclosed the affair, but he quickly made it clear he had no intentions of resigning his seat.
He also has said he will seek a third term in office. He's up for re-election in 2012.
Associated Press writer Pete Yost contributed to this report.