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Interview with Senator Sherrod Brown

By Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow Show - May 13, 2011

Guests: Melanie Sloan, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Doug Heye

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  Have a great weekend. 

Thanks a lot.

LAWRENCE O"DONNELL, "THE LAST WORD" HOST:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

           

Whether or not former Republican Senator John Ensign is going to go to prison may ultimately turn on the question of how much he lied to his own dad.  That is what it may come down to for the disgraced former senator from Nevada.  John Ensign implicating his own parents in the cover up and ethics scandal around his extramarital affair is one of the human factors that comes into the sharpest relief with the new details that have just emerged from the special counsel investigation into Mr. Ensign"s actions.

But Mr. Ensign implicating his own parents is also legally one of the most important aspects of this whole thing.  Without going into every detail of it, the bottom line here is that when John Ensign paid his mistress $96,000 in what very much looked like hush money, he may have been breaking the law.  If that was severance, if that was money he was paying to her as part of the process of firing her, that would be illegal.

What John Ensign tried to say instead was that the $96,000 he paid her was just a present, a gift.  It was a present from his mom and dad to his mistress.  Yes.

And because he knew that would sound exactly as not credible as it sounds to you hearing it right now, John Ensign had to concoct a strange story to support it.  He had his lawyer put out an official statement about it saying the reason Senator Ensign"s mom and dad were paying his mistress $96,000 was because they were always doing stuff like that.  It was a pattern of generosity.  They loved giving presents like, say, $96,000 checks to John Ensign"s mistress and her family.  They did stuff like that all the time.  It was just part of a pattern.

Convincing people of that story"”however farfetched it may be"”is sort of key to keeping John Ensign out of jail.  My mom and dad, I can"t stop them from giving $96,000 checks to my mistress.  They"re doing that constantly.

As part of selling that story, John Ensign had his parents sign legal affidavits swearing that paying the mistress $96,000 was not uncommon.  They had done stuff like that before.  According to the affidavits they had previously purchased an all expense paid trip to Hawaii for the mistress and her family.

John Ensign"s lawyer drew up those statements.  Mr. Ensign had his parents sign them.  And then those statements became part of the official investigation into the John Ensign ethics scandal.

And what we now know is John Ensign may have implicated his parents legally by having them sign their names to that.  John Ensign"s mom who signed the affidavit was not even consulted before it was drawn up and put in front of her.

When investigators got John Ensign"s father, stepfather under oath and started asking him questions about the thing his son had had him sign, the dad denied all of it.  He said, quote, "That"s absolutely false.  This payment for these things in Hawaii, that"s absolutely false.  We never paid for anything.  No, none of that, paid nothing."

But remember, if this Hawaii story isn"t true, if this wasn"t the kind of present John Ensign"s mom and dad were always giving to Senator Ensign"s mistress, then John Ensign maybe goes to jail.  I don"t know where you go for putting your parents in a situation like that, but maybe he goes there, too.

Even though John Ensign resigned from the United States Senate, the reason the Ensign sex and ethics scandal is not over yet is in part because of this brutal evidence which has now been handed over to the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department, because even if the Senate can"t kick him out for something like this anymore, this is bad enough that he may end up going to jail for it.

So, the next big thing we are waiting for in this story is the decision about whether or not the Federal Election Commission or the Justice Department are going to pursue John Ensign on the basis of this new evidence.  That is what we are waiting to hear next.

But do you want to know what else we are waiting to hear?

There is still a senator who is still in the United States Senate who is up to his eyeballs in this scandal and who is not John Ensign.  It is Dr. Tom Coburn, Republican senator from the great state of Oklahoma.  We"ve known for a long time that Senator Coburn was wrapped up in this sex and ethics scandal.

But we now seem to have an answer to the question or at least a potential answer to why he had been so squirrely about this for so long.  Why he has changed his story so many times.  What"s in this new report suggests that the John Ensign scandal is not only morally egregious than we have previously known.  The extent of what"s described as Senator Ensign"s sexual harassment, for example, is way worse than we have known it before.

But it could also involve more potentially legal jeopardy than we have previously known.  And that could explain why during this entire affair, Senator Tom Coburn has been making so many utterly contradictory statements about it, implicating himself, un-implicating himself, denying it, un-denying it, saying he won"t talk about it, talking about it"”as everybody else in this situation sees their lives burn down.

If Tom Coburn is going to be the guy who has no consequences from this, who just stays in the U.S. Senate and keeps, you know, sponsoring family values legislation because he knows best about those matters, certainly better than you, then Tom Coburn coming clean about his role in this John Ensign sex and ethics scandal cover up is probably the other next big thing that we are all waiting for.

From the minute this scandal broke and it was clear that Senator Coburn was tied up in it somehow"”he has been all over the map in terms of explaining his involvement.  What we now know, what we learned this week, is that it was Senator Coburn who personally negotiated the amount for a settle element payout to the family of Senator Ensign"s mistress, the Hamptons.

From page 37 of the report, "The Hamptons" lawyer tried to get a

ballpark estimate from Senator Coburn as to the amount he would be

comfortable with.  The lawyer proposed $8 million.  Senator Coburn said

that the figure was, quote, "absolutely ridiculous."  Mr. Hampton then came

back with some figures an estimated $1.2 million for their home and another

$1.6 million to get started somewhere new.  Senator Coburn responded by

stating that, quote, "OK, that"s what I had in mind and I think is fair.""

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