Senator Ensign to Resign Amid Inquiry
WASHINGTON ? Senator John Ensign of Nevada, the subject of an ethics investigation related to his affair with the wife of a former top aide, announced Thursday evening that he was resigning, effectively ending the high-profile Senate inquiry that had already ruined his once-promising political career.
?It is with tremendous sadness that I officially hand over the Senate seat that I have held for eleven years,? Mr. Ensign, a Republican, said in a statement. ?The turbulence of these last few years is greatly surpassed by the incredible privilege that I feel to have been entrusted to serve the people of Nevada.?
Mr. Ensign acknowledged that his departure was inspired in part to avoid formal charges of wrongdoing.
?While I stand behind my firm belief that I have not violated any law, rule, or standard of conduct of the Senate,? he said, ?and I have fought to prove this publicly, I will not continue to subject my family, my constituents, or the Senate to any further rounds of investigation, depositions, drawn out proceedings, or especially public hearings. For my family and me, this continued personal cost is simply too great.?
The Democrat and Republican who lead the Senate Ethics Committee released a two-sentence statement late Thursday, hinting that the investigation had documented wrongdoing that merited Mr. Ensign?s departure.
?The Senate Ethics Committee has worked diligently for 22 months on this matter and will complete its work in a timely fashion,? said the statement by Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, and Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia. ?Senator Ensign has made the appropriate decision.?
Mr. Ensign?s resignation, which will take effect May 3, will allow Nevada?s governor, Brian Sandoval, to appoint a Republican to fill out the rest of the Senate term, thereby increasing the chances that the party would hold on to what may be a hotly contested seat next year. One likely candidate is Representative Dean Heller, a Republican House member already running for the job. Mr. Ensign had not been planning to run for re-election.
If Mr. Heller is appointed, he will be able to run as an incumbent, and by leaving the House he could also avoid some of the politically charged votes expected to occur there in the coming months.
One Democratic member of Congress, Representative Shelley Berkley, is already running for the seat.
The resignation marks the final chapter in the career of a politician who a few even thought might reach the White House, but who instead got caught up in a particularly salacious Washington scandal. Mr. Ensign, 53, a veterinarian and former casino executive, had cast himself as a religious conservative, and lived with other lawmakers in a Capitol Hill townhouse run by a religious group.
But in 2007 he began an affair with the wife of Doug Hampton, his best friend. The families had been close, vacationing together once. Their children were playmates, and the senator even encouraged Mr. Hampton to come to Washington, where Mr. Hampton became his most loyal aide. Mr. Hampton?s wife, Cynthia, worked as treasurer of Mr. Ensign?s campaign and political action committee.
After learning of the affair in 2008, Mr. Hampton confronted the senator. Soon after, he and his family were given $96,000 by the senator?s parents, described by Mr. Ensign as a gift, and Mr. Hampton left the senator?s staff.
Senate ethics investigators have been examining whether that payment may in fact have been an illegal campaign contribution by Mr. Ensign?s parents as part of an effort to buy Mr. Hampton?s silence. In a series of interviews with The New York Times in 2009, Mr. Hampton also said the senator had helped him get started in his new career as a lobbyist, pushing prominent Nevada executives to hire him, with the understanding that Mr. Hampton would be able to influence Mr. Ensign.
The final step in the Senate ethics investigation before a public statement about possible formal charges against Mr. Ensign would have been a sworn deposition by the senator himself. It is unclear whether that has occurred.
Mr. Ensign, a former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has acknowledged that he helped Mr. Hampton get lobbying work, and that he then took official actions to help Mr. Hampton?s clients, an airline and an electric utility. But he said he had not taken those steps at the request of Mr. Hampton, but because they were constituents.
The ethics committee still has the power to issue a public statement outlining the results of its investigation. One Senate official said that given a year and a half of work looking into the matter ? and the public interest in its outcome ? that the step was likely. It also has the power to make a referral to the Justice Department, which has been conducting its own inquiry, urging it to consider possible criminal charges.
The ethics investigation, which had included the appointment of an experienced former federal prosecutor as an outside special counsel, was considered by Senate officials to be the deepest examination of possible wrongdoing since the ethics committee in 1995 recommended that Senator Bob Packwood, a Republican from Oregon, be expelled. He resigned instead, after accusations of sexual harassment by former members of his staff.
Robert L. Walker, Mr. Ensign?s lawyer, declined to comment Thursday.
The senator?s lawyers said late last year that they had been informed by the Justice Department that it had concluded its investigation. But Justice Department officials would not confirm that such a step was taken.
So far, Mr. Hampton is the only individual to be charged formally with any wrongdoing, as last month, the Justice Department filed criminal charges accusing him of lobbying Mr. Ensign?s office in 2009, after he left his Senate job, despite a one-year lobbying ban. He has pleaded not guilty.
On Thursday, Mr. Ensign?s fellow Nevada senator, Majority Leader Harry Reid, said, ?I know this is a difficult time for the family and I wish them all well as they work through it.?
Ah, that's interesting. I wondered how elected representatives were replaced.Ask him if he is on the terrorist watch list, or does he hold himself to a different standard.
He is one of the peeps that stood up and told Clinton to resign.
An Alberta woman travelling out of Comox Valley Airport said she is shocked after security screening didn't catch a four-inch serrated knife inadvertently left in her husband's carry-on bag.
Teresa Paulson's husband Cameron had purchased the knife in Comox during a family trip to visit his parents last week.
He had meant to pack the knife in his checked baggage, but by mistake, it ended up in his carry-on bag, said Paulson.
When Paulson, her husband and their two children arrived home in Alberta at 12:20 a.m. on Sunday and unpacked their bags, the couple was shocked to discover that the knife had made it through security at Comox Valley Airport.
Paulson immediately contacted the airport authority and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), the Crown corporation tasked with screening air passengers and baggage.
Paulson said the incident has shaken her confidence in airport security.
"How do you miss a four-inch serrated knife?" she said. "You know? It's pretty bad."
"Some one's sleeping down on the job," she added. "Out of five security custom agents, not one of them caught [the knife], but I guess apparently taking away a brand-new bottle of Gatorade for a child who was dehydrated was a little bit more concerning to them."
"It was a pure accident, but [the knife] got missed," Paulson added. "They were more concerned about my ... change that I carry in my wallet that was identifiable through the X-ray, but they missed my husband's four-inch knife that was in his carry-on backpack."
CATSA spokesman Mathieu Larocque said the agency is looking into Paulson's complaints and will be reviewing security tapes, X-ray images and other available information. CATSA will also be talking to staff that were on duty when Paulson and her family went through security screening.
"We'll see exactly what happened and if the procedures were followed or not, and then we'll assess the information that we have," Larocque said.
Once the review is complete within three of four days, Paulson will be notified of the result, Larocque added.
I'm glad to see that hypocrite run out of office. He's only quitting to get the SEC off his back. I read elsewhere today that his initial re-election bid only netted about 100 grand; which is truly paltry for someone who chaired the NRSC.He is one of the peeps that stood up and told Clinton to resign.
It's differs state by state, but I'm pretty sure that most of the time the governor can appoint a replacement. The most interesting part of this will be the fight over Heller's vacant seat (if Heller is sent to the Senate, that is).Ah, that's interesting. I wondered how elected representatives were replaced.
I don't know enough British bureaucrats to know who they're basing Tucker off of, but that character is a dead ringer for Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former Chief of Staff and current mayor-elect of Chicago.>> Warning: Swearing Lots! <<
U.S. develops "panic button" for democracy activists
Some day soon, when pro-democracy campaigners have their cellphones confiscated by police, they'll be able to hit the "panic button" -- a special app that will both wipe out the phone's address book and emit emergency alerts to other activists.
The panic button is one of the new technologies the U.S. State Department is promoting to equip pro-democracy activists in countries ranging from the Middle East to China with the tools to fight back against repressive governments.
"We've been trying to keep below the radar on this, because a lot of the people we are working with are operating in very sensitive environments," said Michael Posner, assistant U.S. secretary of state for human rights and labor.
The U.S. technology initiative is part of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's push to expand Internet freedoms, pointing out the crucial role that on-line resources such as Twitter and Facebook have had in fueling pro-democracy movements in Iran, Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere.
The United States had budgeted some $50 million since 2008 to promote new technologies for social activists, focusing both on "circumvention" technology to help them work around government-imposed firewalls and on new strategies to protect their own communications and data from government intrusion.
"We're working with a group of technology providers, giving small grants," Posner told reporters.
"We're operating like venture capitalists. We are looking for the most innovative people who are going to tailor their technology and their expertise to the particular community of people we're trying to protect."
The United States first began to publicly leverage new Internet technologies in 2009, when it asked Twitter to delay a planned upgrade that would have cut service to Iranians who were organizing mass protests over disputed elections.
Since then it has viewed new media technologies as a key part of its global strategy, facing off with China over censorship of Google results and launching its own Twitter feeds in Arabic, Farsi and Hindi.
Some U.S. lawmakers have criticized the department for not doing enough to promote the new technology, but Posner said it was building momentum as new initiatives are rolled out.
"We're now going full speed ahead to get the money out the door," he said.
Posner said the United States has helped fund development of about a dozen new circumvention technologies now being rolled out, and that more would follow as activists play an increasingly complex game of cat-and-mouse with censors.
He said that the experience of pro-democracy protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in February underscored the centrality of cellphones to modern grassroots political movements. The United States, he said, was working on new devices like the "panic button" and secure text message services to protect both data and databases.
"The world is full of ... governments and other authorities who are capable of breaking into that system," Posner said. "A lot of activists don't know what their options are. They don't have access to technology."
The United States has funded training for some 5,000 activists around the world on the new technologies -- and some sessions have turned up unnerving surprises.
At a recent training session in Beirut, experts examined the computer of a Tunisian activist and discovered it was infected with "key-logging" software that could communicate what he was typing -- presumably to security agents.
"They started to go around and look at what was on the other peoples' computers. A guy from Syria had 100 viruses in his machine ... this is the tip of the iceberg," he said.
Posner conceded that the U.S. move to develop these new technologies carried some risks.
Secure on-line tools useful for underground pro-democracy activists might also be useful for drug cartels or terrorist cells, raising new law enforcement and national security issues that need to be resolved, he said.
"The fact is al Qaeda probably has their own way of gathering some of these technologies," Posner said. "The goal here is to protect people who are, in a peaceful manner, working for human rights and working to have a more open debate."
No, I want to see people informed of and doing something about an agency that is routinely overstepping its already-unconstitutional bounds; one which habitually and pathologically treats people, whom it is supposed to be serving, with contempt and indignity.Still planning on posting every single incident of airport security mishaps we find i see. Brilliant.
Speaking of which...Trust me, there were way more than that just in the past couple of days.
Right so... do they even do background checks on these people or is just ... "yeah, you have fingers capable of pressing buttons, here's your blue shirt and rent-a-cop badge"?(Newsroom America) -- A Transportation Security Administration screening agent who worked at the Philadelphia International Airport has been arrested and charged with distributing more than 100 images of child pornography via Facebook.
Authorities arrested Thomas Gordon Jr. of Philadelphia, 46, of Philadelphia, a screener who routinely searched airline passengers. Federal officials allege he uploaded pornographic images of young girls to several Facebook accounts and that he posed in one such image wearing his blue TSA uniform.
State Dept. wants to make it harder to get a passport
If you don?t want it to get even harder for a U.S. citizen to get a passport ? now required for travel even to Canada or Mexico ? you only have until Monday to let the State Department know.
The U.S. Department of State is proposing a new Biographical Questionnaire for some passport applicants: The proposed new Form DS-5513 asks for all addresses since birth; lifetime employment history including employers? and supervisors names, addresses, and telephone numbers; personal details of all siblings; mother?s address one year prior to your birth; any ?religious ceremony? around the time of birth; and a variety of other information. According to the proposed form, ?failure to provide the information requested may result in ? the denial of your U.S. passport application.?
The State Department estimated that the average respondent would be able to compile all this information in just 45 minutes, which is obviously absurd given the amount of research that is likely to be required to even attempt to complete the form.
It seems likely that only some, not all, applicants will be required to fill out the new questionnaire, but no criteria have been made public for determining who will be subjected to these additional new written interrogatories. So if the passport examiner wants to deny your application, all they will have to do is give you the impossible new form to complete.
It?s not clear from the supporting statement, statement of legal authorities, or regulatory assessment submitted by the State Department to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) why declining to discuss one?s siblings or to provide the phone number of your first supervisor when you were a teenager working at McDonalds would be a legitimate basis for denial of a passport to a U.S. citizen.
There?s more information in the Federal Register notice (also available here as a PDF) and from the Identity Project.
(Note that the proposed form itself was not published in the Federal Register. The Identity Project was eventually provided with a copy after requesting it from the Department of State, and posted it here.)
Here?s a draft of the comments (PDF) being submitted by the Consumer Travel Alliance and other consumer, privacy, and civil liberties groups and individuals, if you would like to use it for ideas for comments of your own. (It?s also available in OpenOffice format for easier editing.)
Extra points to the person who gives the best answer in the comments to the question on the proposed form, ?Please describe the circumstances of your birth including the names (as well as address and phone number, if available) of persons present or in attendance at your birth.?
I'm smelling a case of "let's put everything out there that we could possibly come up with and see what we can get away with". Alternatively, it's just a bored journalist in need of clicks.http://www.consumertraveler.com/today/state-dept-wants-to-make-it-harder-to-get-a-passport/
I can't even begin to tell you how many jobs I have had, let alone the addresses and supervisors. What are they trying to do, play seven degrees to a terrorist?
Good grief. And I thought getting a passport photo that satisfied the pernickety no-smiling rules was bad enough.