Some generally awkward television took place Thursday afternoon when Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) -- invited on CNN to discuss the botched Christmas terrorist attack -- was quizzed about ethics allegations that he set up and aided the husband of his mistress with a lobbying gig.
The Nevada Republican insisted throughout the segment that he had done nothing unethical or untoward in arranging for his former staffer Doug Hampton to join a political consulting firm and then setting him up with clients. But with each attempt at evasion, host Rick Sanchez came back with another the excruciating question.
"Did you help [Hampton] get a job because you felt bad for him or because you had been sleeping with his wife and you wanted to get him out of the way," the CNN anchor asked at one point.
For his part, Ensign didn't walk off the set. But it seemed pretty clear that the senator and his staff had secured a promise from CNN beforehand that the topic of his affair would not be discussed.
Here is video courtesy of Talking Points Memo:
"I commented all I was going to comment on that," said Ensign. "And we told you when we were going to come on here that I'm going to be focused on health care, I'm going to be focused on the economy... You can ask it all the ways you want to ask it."
Ensign largely dropped off the national political scene after his affair with Hampton's wife, Cynthia Hampton, became public this past June. The CNN appearance was his first on the network since the story broke, Sanchez said.
But a New York Times story months later raised the possibility that the senator skirted ethics rules in order to outfit his mistress's jilted husband with a consulting gig, one in which he was allowed to lobby Ensign's staff. In addition, the senator reportedly encouraged friends and associates to give Hampton business when money started going dry.
Asked by Sanchez whether the arrangement violated restrictions on staffers lobbying their former bosses, Ensign replied, succinctly: "That's his problem. That's not my problem.... I believe that based on facts, the ethics committee will clear me and I will go on being a senator."
Sanchez would persist, but get little further. "I will applaud you for your efforts but I told you before, I have answered the questions I'm going to answer," said Ensign.