WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Senate Ethics Committee is investigating Sen. John Ensign, and allegations of improper conduct stemming from an affair with the wife of a former aide.
"Whenever allegations of improper conduct are brought to the attention of the Senate Ethics Committee, we open a preliminary inquiry," committee spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz told CNN.
But, in keeping with the committee's tradition of secrecy, Ravitz went on to say that the "ethics committee doesn't comment on ongoing investigations."
Because of the tight lipped nature of the ethics panel, it is unclear exactly what the Ethics Committee is probing.
The Nevada Republican admitted in June to having an affair with Cynthia Hampton, the wife of former aide and long time friend Doug Hampton, who left Ensign's staff in 2008 in the wake of that affair.
Ensign's lawyer later released a statement on his behalf saying the senator's parents gave Cynthia and Doug Hampton $96,000, which they called a gift, "out of concern for the well-being of long time family friends during a difficult time."
In July, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a left-leaning watchdog group, formally asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate potential violations of ethics rules.
Now, a lengthy New York Times article has detailed efforts by Ensign to find Doug Hampton work with Nevada companies after he left Ensign's staff because of the affair. The article notes that Ensign was successful in helping Hampton sign on as a consultant to NV Energy and Allegiant Air, and says a review of records and interviews shows that Ensign and his staff coordinated with Hampton to push the companies' agenda in Washington.
Senate GOP sources, who did not want to be quoted on the record about the Ensign controversy, said they worried the efforts described in the article appear to show that Ensign may have facilitated relationships and work for Hampton that violate a ban on lobbying for one year after a Senator or aide leaves office.
The Senate Ethics Committee can and often does incorporate allegations in press reports into their investigations. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell refused to answer a number or questions from reporters Friday about the latest allegations and revelations about Ensign. "I don't have any observations to make about the Ensign matter today," McConnell said repeatedly as he sidestepped the questions. E-mails to Ensigns office for comment have not been returned.
In a statement to the New York Times, Ensign said "I am confident we fully complied with the relevant laws and rules governing current and past employees. I have worked on these Nevada issues with these Nevada companies for years, long before Doug Hampton left my office."