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Senate Ethics Committee Hires Outside Counsel for Ensign Probe

Feb. 1 (Bloomberg) -- The Senate Ethics Committee named an outside counsel to help with its investigation of Senator John Ensign, who had an extramarital affair with a former campaign aide.

The appointment of Carol Elder Bruce, a lawyer with the firm of K&L Gates LLP and a former assistant U.S. attorney, was announced in a press release today by the committee’s chairwoman, California Democrat Barbara Boxer, and its vice chairman, Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson.

The lawmakers said the committee is looking at whether Ensign, a Nevada Republican, violated federal law and Senate rules. The committee, which has an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, announced the investigation in October.

“The Senate Ethics Committee has assured Senator Ensign that their inquiry remains in the preliminary stage and that the appointment of a special counsel does not change the course of its inquiry,” said Robert Walker, a lawyer for the senator.

“Senator Ensign is confident that he complied with all ethics rules and laws, and he is hopeful that this appointment will lead to a more speedy resolution of this matter,” Walker said.

Bruce will help the committee determine whether there is evidence of malfeasance. At the end of its preliminary inquiry, the panel can dismiss the allegations, admonish Ensign or continue the investigation, including possibly holding hearings.

The Justice Department dropped its investigation last year, Ensign lawyer Paul Coggins said in December.

Ensign, 52, resigned his fourth-ranking post in the Senate Republican leadership post after confirming the affair in June 2009. Ensign’s parents paid $96,000 to the family of the aide, Cindy Hampton, Coggins said in July 2009. Her husband, Doug Hampton, had been a member of Ensign’s staff.

First elected to the Senate in 2000 after two terms in the U.S. House, Ensign has said he will run for re-election next year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at jsalant@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net.

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