(Steve Sebelius) – U.S. Sen. John Ensign went on the Alan Stock show on KXNT-AM 840 this morning, agreeing to talk about his personal issues for a few minutes before spewing right-wing talking points for most of the rest of the hour.
While Ensign addressed his affair in now-familiar terms (”a huge mistake” and “something I wish I wouldn’t have done”) and his post-affair regrets, his potential violations of law went largely undiscussed. While Stock did ask about Ensign seeking work for his former best friend and husband of Ensign’s mistress, Doug Hampton, the host failed to ask about Hampton’s subsequent lobbying of Ensign’s office, efforts Ensign made on Hampton’s behalf in Washington, D.C. and a $96,000 payment that may have been illegal under federal rules.
However, Stock did elicit some newsworthy bites. Here’s a few:
• Ensign won’t resign. “I was elected to a six-year term by the people of Nevada and I fully intend to serve that out,” he said. Later, he added that if he were to quit, a second Senate race in 2010 would divide the resources of those trying to unseat U.S. Sen. Harry Reid. So, Ensign is doing it for the party? So his second-best friend in Washington, D.C., Reid, has a harder time at the ballot next year?
• Ensign claims there are candidates running next year who want him involved in their campaigns. He offered no names, and the only person we know who has said she’d welcome Ensign’s support is Republican Sue Lowden, running against Reid. Sadly, Lowden appears to be unaware of the infamous non-aggression pact between Ensign and Reid, which means Ensign will offer her lip-service at best.
• Ensign still believes in fidelity. “I have had standards, have standards, and I didn’t meet them. That doesn’t mean the standard is wrong,” he said. “I still believe in fidelity in marriage. I didn’t meet that standard.” Well, it’s nice to have goals, we suppose.
• Ensign dodged Stock’s question about whether he was a hypocritical a-hole (we’re paraphrasing) for calling for former President Bill Clinton’s resignation after his dalliances with Monica Lewinsky came to light. “I’m fixing my own problems, and that’s what I’m focused on,” Ensign said.
• Ensign hasn’t been doing town hall meetings because … he doesn’t have the same franking privilege that the House of Representatives has to send free mail? (Don’t worry, it’s not supposed to make sense.) The real reason: He’s clearly afraid of a line of people asking him about his scandal.
• “My family does come first,” Ensign claimed. But if his affair and its fallout (including potential investigations by the Justice Department and the Senate Ethics Committee) is such a distraction to his person and political work, why doesn’t he quit to focus on his family, which, you know, comes first? “Some of the worst things that happen in life are some of the things that turn out in a very positive way,” he said.
• Adultery as a marriage-builder? They sure don’t teach that in Promise Keepers.
There were a few other interesting moments, such as the conservative caller who demanded to know why Ensign voted for the decidedly un-conservative bank bailout and No Child Left Behind Act (”well, I appreciate that,” a flummoxed Ensign said) and the caller who wanted to know if Stock stood by his call for Ensign to quit. (Stock brushed it off at the time, but came back to it later, saying he still thinks Ensign should quit, but at least understands his reasons for not doing so.)
The interview marks the first time Ensign has spoken publicly about his scandal in the media, apart from that oh-so-brief news conference in June and a couple snippets here and there to various outlets. But if the rhetoric even under friendly questioning is any indication of the level of his defense, we understand why he’s kept himself out of the limelight.
(Mr. Sebelius is editor of CityLife newspaper in Las Vegas)