Carol Elder Bruce, a former federal prosecutor, has been selected as special counsel to take over an ethics investigation of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), Politico reported.
In June 2009, Ensign disclosed that he had an extramarital affair with a campaign aide married to another senior Ensign staff member. Ensign said he went public because the staff member had attempted to extort money from him. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), the chairman and the top Republican on the Senate Ethics Committee, announced on Tuesday that Bruce will conduct a “preliminary inquiry” into whether Ensign violated Senate rules during his affair.
From 1975 to 1985, Bruce worked in the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia. While in the office, she served as lead counsel in more than 100 jury trials and managed grand jury investigations of more than 100 other felony matters.
She has extensive private sector experience, having worked for Covington & Burling LLP, SNR Denton, Butzel Long Tighe Patton, PLLC, Venable LLP and Bracewell & Giuliani LLP. Bruce currently is a partner at K&L Gates LLP.
This is not the first time Bruce has been tapped as special counsel. In 1987, she was named as Independent Counsel James McKay’s top assistant in the investigation of Attorney General Edwin Meese III over his efforts to help a company that was seeking military contracts and was represented by a law school classmate of Meese’s. (The investigation did not lead to criminal charges against Meese but to a finding that he had been “insensitive to the appearance of impropriety.”)
In 1998, she was the lead investigator a probe into of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who was cleared of allegations of rejecting a casino license in exchange for political donations.
In a news release, the Committee said, “The purpose of a preliminary inquiry is to determine whether there is substantial credible evidence that a violation within the Committee’s jurisdiction has occurred,” adding, “The possible responses after a preliminary inquiry are dismissal of the allegations, a letter of admonition, or, for more serious violations, an adjudicatory review. An adjudicatory review generally involves more formal proceedings, including notice to the Senator of the nature of the possible violations, a description of the evidence of such violations, and the right to a hearing before the Committee recommends disciplinary or other action.”
The Justice Department last year ended a criminal probe into the Ensign case.