Ensign may find it tough to move on from scandal

June 18, 2009 1:17:10 PM PDT
Sen. John Ensign has been quick to describe his dalliance with an aide in brief and simple terms. The affair is over. The apologies made and accepted. No questions will be answered, the married Nevada Republican said in his brief admission of infidelity. But the first public statement from the woman once involved with the 51-year-old rising political star suggests more is brewing behind Ensign's neat account.

Cindy Hampton and her husband, Doug, a couple Ensign has described as "close friends," issued sharp remarks Wednesday through an attorney.

"It is unfortunate the senator chose to air this very personal matter, especially after the Hamptons did everything possible to keep this matter private," Las Vegas lawyer Daniel Albregts said in the statement. "It is equally unfortunate that he did so without concern for the effect such an announcement would have on the Hampton family. In time the Hamptons will be ready and willing to tell their side of the story."

The lawyer declined to answer questions.

But Tony Mazzola, a spokesman for Ensign, disputed the Hamptons' claim that they had planned to keep the affair private. Before announcing the affair, Ensign had learned that Doug Hampton had contacted a television news organization, Mazzola said.

Albregts declined to comment on that assertion.

An Associated Press review of federal records showed that around the time of the affair, Cindy Hampton, 46, received a promotion and a pay raise at one political entity controlled by Ensign and a pay raise at a second. Her husband, Doug, was an employee in Ensign's Senate office, and a golfing buddy.

Since Ensign admitted the affair Tuesday at a hastily arranged news briefing in Las Vegas, he and his staff have refused to comment. It remains unclear what prompted the unexpected announcement.

The disclosure resurrected questions about a two-week period in 2002 when Ensign abruptly dropped from public view. A person familiar with that episode, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the senator told a close associate the absence followed an earlier affair.

Ensign, in his second term, has said he intends to remain in the Senate.

He offered to resign as head of the Republican Policy Committee in a phone call Wednesday with Sen. Mitch McConnell, the party leader.

"He's accepted responsibility for his actions and apologized to his family and constituents. He offered, and I accepted, his resignation as chairman of the Policy Committee," McConnell, R-Ky., said.

At his news briefing Tuesday, Ensign said the affair he had last year was "the worst thing I have ever done in my life."

"Our families were close. That closeness put me into situations which led to my inappropriate behavior," he said.

Ensign's office says he had carried out a consensual affair from December 2007 through August 2008 with a "campaign staffer who worked at Ensign for Senate and Battle Born PAC from December 2006 to May 2008. The campaign employee was married to an official Senate staffer who worked for Senator Ensign. As of May 2008 neither employee worked for Senator Ensign."

Neither Ensign nor his aides would name the woman or her husband, but the statement from the Hamptons' lawyer removed any mystery about her identity.

Federal records show Cynthia Hampton was on the payroll of Ensign's Battle Born Political Action Committee at $1,385.24 a month until she was appointed treasurer and her salary was doubled to $2,771.50 starting in February 2008.

Her salary also doubled at Ensign's campaign committee, where she was treasurer, beginning around the time the affair began. It went from $500 a month to $1,000 a month.

Records also show Doug Hampton, 47, received a monthly salary of $13,555 as an administrative assistant in Ensign's Senate office. He received a payment of $19,679 for his final month of employment and was off the payroll on May 1, 2008, according to Senate records.

Additionally, the National Republican Senatorial Committee made twice-monthly payments, generally $500 apiece, to Brandon Hampton, who Republican officials said was the couple's son. The payments began in March of last year and ended in August, when Ensign's office says the affair ended.

On Wednesday, reporters lingered outside the Hamptons' home, a 12,000-square-foot mansion just minutes from the Ensign family home in another private, gate-guarded community.

A housekeeper who answered the door said the Hamptons were away. Later, Doug Hampton returned, entered the house and emerged briefly to plead for privacy before driving away. He referred questions to his lawyer.


Associated Press writers Brendan Riley, Oskar Garcia and Ken Ritter in Nevada and David Espo, Kevin Freking and Pete Yost in Washington contributed to this report.

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