NRSC subpoenaed by grand jury in its investigation of Ensign

The federal grand jury investigating Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) subpoenaed the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), a sign the Justice Department is ramping up its efforts to determine whether Ensign abused his office in the aftermath of an affair he had with a top aide’s wife.

“The NRSC has responded appropriately to questions concerning matters related to the 2008 election cycle timeframe,” said Sean Cairncross, the NRSC’s general counsel, in a statement.

The FBI and the Senate Ethics Committee are investigating the two-term Nevada senator for allegedly trying to limit political damage from an affair with the wife of one of his former Senate aides by conspiring to help the former aide secure lobbying work and using his influence to pressure several parties to keep quiet about it.

Efforts to help Doug Hampton land lobbying work may have violated revolving-door restrictions on lobbying by former congressional staffers. Former congressional aides must wait one year before lobbying their ex-bosses and former colleagues.

Hampton told The New York Times last year that Ensign helped him land contracts with NV Energy, the largest power company in Nevada, and Allegiant Air, a Las Vegas-based discount airline. At the time, Hampton said he had lobbied Ensign staff on both companies’ legislative agendas.

The NRSC subpoena follows a flurry of Justice Department subpoenas sent to six local Nevada businesses that had dealings with Ensign and his staff dating back to 2008, the Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV reported Wednesday.

The Nevada subpoenas sought “any and all records; including e-mails, phone calls and calendars,” according to KLAS.

Ensign spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher has said that Ensign did not break any ethics laws and will continue cooperating with the investigation.

“Sen. Ensign is confident he has complied with all ethics rules and laws and will cooperate with any official inquiries,” she said.

NRSC officials declined to comment specifically on what was asked for, but it’s likely investigators requested e-mails and phone records of former NRSC staffers who served while Ensign was chairman.

The subpoena posted on KLAS-TV’s website seeks documents relating to Ensign; former Ensign Chief of Staff John Lopez; the Hamptons; and political consultants Michael Slanker and his wife, Lindsey.

Ensign headed the NRSC during the 2008 election cycle. At the beginning of his tenure at the NRSC, Ensign chose Mike and Lindsey Slanker of the Nevada-based political consulting firm November Inc. to be the political director and finance director. They left the NRSC after Ensign’s tenure was over.

Lopez told The New York Times last year he had raised concerns when Hampton tried to lobby him. Instead of prohibiting any future contact from Hampton, Lopez said he was told that it was his responsibility to make sure any lobbying done complied with the law.

Last June, Ensign, who is married, acknowledged a relationship with Cynthia Hampton that ended in 2008. In addition to allegedly trying to assist Doug Hampton with employment, Ensign is charged with having his parents pay the Hamptons $96,000.