11A111 Ensign's Error by Jim Davies, 4/24/2011    

John Ensign, US Senator from Nevada, resigned last week. He should have taken some such action thirteen years ago.

The current reason is that when last running for election he hired aides, of whom two were Doug Hampton and his wife, and the wife and the Senator had an affair. That should be a matter between the three of them, and Mrs Ensign, and nobody else. However, it seems the Hamptons suggested later that a payment would be appropriate, to make sure they didn't inadvertently mention the matter to anyone else. You know how morally fussy Pols can get.

Ensign declined to pay, on the grounds that such hush-money would be unethical (oh, no!) by the Senate's rules, but then found a way around the rules: his parents made the payment. Now, it has all come out from an "investigation" by one of those quick-acting snoop operations on the Hill, for 22 months past. Last week, fearing damage to his reputation and re-election prospects, he quit. End of story.

Well, not quite. I first heard Ensign's name in 1998, when he was a Congressman from Nevada, and replied to a letter from one of his constituents. Mr Irwin Schiff had for some years been researching federal tax laws, and had encountered a puzzle: one of them clearly states that only people "liable" for a federal tax are required to file a return, yet he had been unable to find any law that made anyone liable for a tax on incomes. Could the Congressman please ask around and let him know where it was?

John Ensign replied; and that is good. Generally they don't bother, or just write a few platitudes pulled from the Congressional Platitudinous Paragraph database. The reply was explosive: "I cannot point to a specific place in the law where it says you must pay income taxes. However, the courts have determined..." Having taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, Congressman Ensign would of course be familiar with its Article I, which states that "All legislative power is vested in a Congress" - with no such power left over for courts. Ensign's non-discovery was therefore the revelation of the century.

It followed an even clearer reply in December 1997 by Congressman Dan Burton of Indiana, to a constituent of his: "You are correct in your assertion that the word 'liable' or the terminology 'liability for income taxes' is not included in any section of the Internal Revenue Code." At the time, Mr Burton was Chairman of the "Government Reform and Oversight" Committee. He is known for having created a seacoast for the landlocked country of Bolivia, but to answer this legal question correctly he could rely on as many staffers as he needed.

Naturally, Schiff played Ensign's words on his radio show, over and over; for it meant that not even sitting Congressmen, with all needed powers of research available, had been able to identify the law that obliged 120 million Americans to part with (now) a trillion dollars of what we earn, every year.

So what was Ensign's error? - that having made his non-discovery, he took no action. He didn't resign in disgust (on the grounds that half of all the revenues he and his colleagues were spending had been obtained by mendacity and fraud as well as theft) and he didn't use whatever parliamentary device was available to interrupt the business of Congress to call attention to the anomaly and get an appropriate law enacted by 9 am the following day, so as to repair the gross omission. He did nothing, just... carrying on as if nothing untoward had taken place.

Schiff naturally acted on the information obtained and continued to broadcast the fact that no law requires the payment of income tax, until in 2005 the Feds finally shut him up - for 13 years, in a cage. When doing so, the judge instructed the jury that the law does make people liable for this tax, and cited four unrelated statutes of which not one uses the word or any of its derivatives or synonyms; that is, he deliberately lied, so as to get Schiff convicted and silenced.

John Ensign was still representing Nevada, but lifted nary a finger to help.

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