Newly released records suggest federal prosecutors had enough evidence to charge former U.S. Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) with lobbying or campaign finance violations, but backed off because of fear of losing in court and “undue deference to public officials,” according to a watchdog group that sued for access to the documents, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Ensign resigned in 2011 during a Senate investigation that ultimately found evidence he broke the law in trying to cover up his affair with the wife of a top aide. The Senate Ethics Committee said Ensign tried to get the aide, Doug Hampton, work as a lobbyist. That would violate a law barring former Senate staffers from lobbying for one year after they leave the government. Hampton pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor lobbying violation, but Ensign was never charged.
Officials cited “insufficient evidence and exculpatory witness testimony” in declining to prosecute Ensign, according to one of the documents uncovered by CREW. In one email, the deputy chief of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section wrote, “this is a really tough case to win.” CREW said that conclusion was hard to understand given the large amount of evidence turned up by the Justice Department and Senate investigations.