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THE SENATOR’S SCANDAL:

Hampton speaks publicly, says Ensign paid severance

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Doug Hampton speaks publicly for the first time Wednesday about his wife’s affair with Sen. John Ensign on “Face to Face with Jon Ralston.”

Updated Wednesday, July 8, 2009 | 7:56 p.m.

Doug Hampton interview - July 2009

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Doug Hampton

Doug Hampton speaks publicly for the first time Wednesday about his wife's affair with Sen. John Ensign on Launch slideshow »

Doug Hampton spoke publicly for the first time today about the affair his wife had with Sen. John Ensign, saying the Nevada Republican continued his pursuit even after intermediaries tried to get him to stop.

Hampton said that Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and others urged him to end the affair and help the Hamptons pay off their home and move to Colorado. But Ensign was so infatuated that he continued, Hampton said.

John Hart, Coburn's communications director, released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying Ensign should have ended the affair.

"Dr. Coburn did everything he could to encourage Senator Ensign to end his affair and to persuade Senator Ensign to repair the damage he had caused to his own marriage and the Hampton’s marriage," according to the statement. "Had Senator Ensign followed Dr. Coburn’s advice, this episode would have ended, and been made public, long ago."

Hampton’s comments came during an exclusive two-part interview with Sun columnist Jon Ralston, to air tonight at 5:30 p.m. and tomorrow on “Face to Face with Jon Ralston.”

“In response to today’s television interview, Senator Ensign said Doug Hampton was consistently inaccurate in his statements,” Ensign spokesman Tory Mazzola said in a statement.

Cynthia Hampton was the treasurer of Ensign’s political action committee and re-election campaign, while Doug Hampton served as a senior aide on Ensign’s Senate staff.

Hampton said Ensign paid the woman more than $25,000 in severance when she stopped working for the senator.

If true, Ensign faces a possible felony violation of campaign finance law if he paid the severance but failed to report it as an in-kind contribution to the campaign committees where she worked, according to ethics complaints filed against him.

Knowingly and willfully failing to report a contribution of more than $25,000 is a criminal violation subject to five years in prison, according to complaints filed last month by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Campaign reports show no such in-kind payment from Ensign to either his personal campaign committee or his Battle Born leadership Political Action Committee, according CREW, which filed complaints June 24 with the Federal Elections Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee.

The severance was just one of several new revelations that arose from part one of the two-part interview with Ralston.

Hampton said the affair began while his family was staying at the Ensign home. Hampton said his family’s house was broken into just before Christmas 2007, at which time the Ensigns invited the Hamptons to stay with them in a nearby Summerlin neighborhood.

The families each have three children and their friendship goes back decades.

Hampton discovered the affair when he saw an incriminating text message, he said.

The families confronted the issue in full on Christmas Eve.

Still, Hampton told Ralston, Ensign continued to pursue Cynthia Hampton with text messages and phone calls.

Hampton seemed to suggest his wife Cynthia was powerless to prevent the continuing affair.

Hampton and Ensign were bonded by their conservative evangelical faith. Hampton said he reached out to intermediaries involved in a Christian fellowship home in Washington, D.C., where Ensign and several other powerful Washington figures live.

The group, including Coburn, a well-known conservative, confronted Ensign and suggested that the Hamptons needed to be given financial assistance -- in the millions of dollars -- to pay off their $1 million-plus mortgage and move them to a new life away from Ensign.

During the confrontation, Ensign agreed to write a letter to Cynthia Hampton expressing remorse, Hampton said.

The letter, which was authenticated by Ralston’s executive producer Dana Gentry, is filled with contrition: “I was completely self-centered and only thinking of myself. I used you for my own pleasure not letting thoughts of you, Doug, Brandon, Blake or Brittany come into my mind,” he wrote, referring to the Hampton children.

But after sending the letter, which bears the date “Feb. 2008,” Hampton said Ensign quickly disavowed it in a conversation with Cynthia Hampton and continued to pursue her.

Hampton said that on that same February weekend, Ensign told him, “I’m in love with your wife.”

Some time later, according to Hampton, Ensign’s wife Darlene Ensign reached out to top Ensign political aide Mike Slanker, asking him to set up Hampton with political and lobbying work.

Hampton said he tried but failed to extricate himself from the situation.

“John is so focused, hyper-focused on what he wants….that he’s not seeing the collateral damage that’s going on in people’s lives,” he said.

With respect to the possibly illegal $25,000 severance, Melanie Sloan of the ethics watch dog group CREW, said, “This is exactly what we alleged. The FEC will certainly be asking questions.”

Ensign could argue that the payment was a gift, not a severance, which would make it not subject to campaign finance laws.

Or Ensign could have split the payment into two parts, say $12,500 to each committee, Sloan said, which would lower the penalty for failure to report to a misdemeanor.

Sun reporter Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

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