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Ethics Panel Admonishes Sen. Tom Coburn

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate Ethics committee has slapped the hand of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK., for engaging in communication with an ex-aide of the disgraced former Sen. John Ensign.

The committee said there was “improper conduct” between the Coburn and ex-Ensign aide Doug Hampton, by violating the Senate rule, which bars contact on legislative matters within the first year of a staffer’s departure.

“The Committee found that you met with Mr. Hampton on official business even though you had reason to know that he was legally prohibited from requesting or participating in such a meeting,” the letter written Friday to Coburn from the Ethics Committee says.

The Senate’s Post-Employment Contact Ban prohibits former senior staff, like Hampton, for one year from knowingly communicating or appearing before their former Senate colleagues if their intent is to influence official action and they acting on behalf of any other person – called the “cooling off period.”

Hampton is an employee of Allegiant Air. The committee found that during Hampton’s cooling-off period he met with Coburn in March of 2009 and discussed both personal and business related matter, including the FAA reauthorization and “substantive matter of legislative concern to Allegiant.”

The Ethics Committee says the communication and meeting was “improper,” which reflects poorly on the Senate. But, they determined that the “Public Letter of Qualified Admonition” sent today is enough punishment.

“In deciding to issue a qualified admonition, the Committee took note that it was one meeting that you have since candidly acknowledged was wrong and taken full responsibility for arranging,” they write. “The Committee recognizes and appreciates your contrition.”

The Ethics Committee’s six-member panel says they now deem the “matter closed.”

Senator Coburn’s office will be issuing a statement shortly.

Former Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign resigned from Congress in 2011 after having an affair with Hampton’s wife.

UPDATE: A spokesman for Coburn says in a statement to ABC News that the Senate Ethics Committee's letter was "gratuitous," and says the burden of compliance should be on those under the lobbying ban, not members of Congress.

Full paper statement below:

“The burden of compliance should be on individuals under the lobbying ban, not on the thousands of employees on Capitol Hill who are now being asked to access a database of banned individuals each time they get a phone call or meeting request.  Admonishing Dr. Coburn for failing to know Hampton was only seven weeks shy of ending his year-long cooling off period is gratuitous, particularly when Dr. Coburn cooperated fully with the ethics committee and went out of his way to acknowledge that he could have taken additional steps to learn that Hampton was under the ban – even though, again, the burden of compliance was on Hampton.  It is unfortunate the committee has impugned Dr. Coburn for their failure to provide workable guidance for a law that was passed nearly five years ago.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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