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August 23, 2014

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The Senator’s Scandal:

Hampton portrays Ensign as relentless

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Leila Navidi

Doug Hampton is a former senior aide to Sen. John Ensign and is married to the woman with whom the senator admitted to having an affair.

Doug Hampton interview, part 2 - July 2009

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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 Wednesday about the affair his wife had with Sen. John Ensign, alleging that the Nevada Republican engaged in a lengthy and calculated series of deceptions despite repeated attempts to get him to stop.

Hampton’s comments, his first since Ensign publicly disclosed the affair last month, came during a two-part interview with Sun columnist Jon Ralston on “Face to Face With Jon Ralston.” The first part began airing Wednesday and concludes today. Broadcasts of part two are at 5:30, 6:30 and 8 p.m. today on Cox Cable channel 19.

Hampton’s comments generally followed the allegations he made last month in a letter to Fox News. But the Ralston interview filled in many details and included one allegation that could cause Ensign serious legal problems. Hampton claimed that Ensign paid Cynthia Hampton considerably more than $25,000 in severance when she was told to leave her job with Ensign’s campaign committee in April 2008. Ensign did not report the payment, as required by law, according to a Washington watchdog group.

Beyond the severance claim, Hampton’s account shows Ensign as calculating and relentless in his pursuit of the affair.

Indeed, Hampton confronted Ensign on several occasions, including a scene on Christmas Eve 2007 in which both couples and their children, staying together at the Ensign home in Summerlin, discussed the infidelity, which Hampton said he discovered only the day before.

Despite the confrontation, the affair went on for many months. Ensign has said it lasted until August 2008.

Ensign, heading into a meeting Wednesday afternoon with fellow GOP senators, declined to comment: “I don’t have anything to say.” His office issued a one-sentence release: “In response to today’s television interview, Senator Ensign said Doug Hampton was consistently inaccurate in his statements.”

At the time of the affair, Cynthia Hampton was treasurer of Ensign’s political action committee and reelection campaign; Doug Hampton served as a senior aide on Ensign’s Senate staff. The two families had been close friends for years.

Hampton said that as the affair continued into the winter of 2008, he asked intermediaries to urge Ensign to stop. In February, Hampton said, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and others at the Christian fellowship house where Ensign stays when in Washington confronted Ensign. The Nevada senator responded by writing a note of apology to Cynthia Hampton.

Doug Hampton said Coburn told Ensign he needed to pay off the mortgage on their $1.2 million Las Vegas home and move them to Colorado.

Instead, after sending the note to Cynthia Hampton, who was then in Las Vegas, Ensign flew to Nevada and resumed the affair the next day, Doug Hampton said.

The allegation of the large severance payment is a serious one. If true, Ensign faces a possible felony violation of campaign finance law for failing to report it as an in-kind contribution to the campaign committees where she worked, according to ethics complaints filed against him.

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 (CREW).

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 to CREW, which filed complaints June 24 with the Federal Elections Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee.

In the interview, Hampton’s language indicated that a lawsuit is forthcoming.

“You’ll see all of this through this discovery,” he said at one point, using a word — discovery — often used to describe the deposition procedure of a lawsuit, which would involve under-oath testimony.

Hampton indicated that he considers his wife, who has not spoken about the matter publicly, a victim of coercion while she was working for Ensign.

Ensign “uses that as leverage to contact Cindy. She’s trying to get away from John, but he’ll leave messages like, ‘It is about your job; it is a work issue I need to talk about,’ ” he said.

Aside from potential legal snafus, Ensign faces deepening political problems. Ensign resigned his Senate GOP leadership post last month, and he has clearly alienated at least one Republican colleague. Coburn, a one-time ally who lives with Ensign in Washington, offered a sharply critical statement through a spokesman:

“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 Hamptons’ marriage,” according to the statement. “Had Senator Ensign followed Dr. Coburn’s advice, this episode would have ended, and been made public, long ago.”

Other new details emerged during the Ralston interview. 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 lives at the time were intertwined. The Hampton children referred to Ensign as an “uncle.” The couples shared a bond of conservative evangelical faith.

Hampton discovered the affair when he saw an incriminating text message, he said. But even after the Christmas Eve discussion involving both families, Hampton told Ralston, Ensign continued to pursue Cynthia Hampton with text messages and phone calls.

Hampton told Ralston that he later alerted Tim and David Coe and Marty Sherman of the Fellowship Foundation, a secretive but powerful Christian group in Washington, which owns the group house where Ensign, Coburn and several other powerful Christian conservatives live. The group confronted Ensign, who responded by writing the note, which a source confirmed to Ralston’s executive producer, Dana Gentry, had been written by the senator.

Despite the confrontation, the affair went on for many months.

The note, dated “Feb. 2008,” 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 her husband and children.

The letter expresses strong religious sentiments, as well. “I walked away from Him and my relationship with Him has suffered terribly. I know He loves me and I know He loves you.”

After Ensign immediately took up with Cynthia Hampton again, Doug Hampton said, he confronted Ensign again, just a day after he had sent the note. Hampton said Ensign replied: “I’m in love with your wife. You can’t work for me anymore.”

Ensign’s wife, Darlene, began watching him closely, Doug Hampton said. He said Ensign then acquired other phones so he could call and text Cynthia Hampton undetected.

Some time later, according to Hampton, Ensign’s wife reached out to top Ensign political aide Mike Slanker, asking him to set up Hampton with political and lobbying work. Hampton told Ralston that Slanker was well aware of the affair.

At the time, Slanker was the top political consultant to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, of which Ensign was chairman. The committee’s goal was to elect Republicans that November. The party lost eight seats in the election.

A message left for Slanker by the Sun was not returned. Ralston reported that Slanker has denied knowing about the affair.

Later, Ensign helped Hampton get work at Allegiant Air, whose CEO has given tens of thousands of dollars to Ensign’s campaigns.

Hampton said he tried but failed to extricate himself from the situation, but acknowledged that he had few professional options and so he essentially became party to a cover-up.

He said his attorney has approached Ensign’s attorney because his family has suffered “anger, hurt and pain” and are falling further and further behind financially after losing their jobs. Hampton had been making $160,000 as a senior aide to Ensign.

With respect to the possibly illegal $25,000 severance, Ensign could argue that the payment was a gift, not a severance, which would make it not subject to campaign finance laws, though he would then be subject to IRS rules regarding large gifts.

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

Nevada Republicans were again baffled by the day’s events. “Who is John Ensign?” said a Republican consultant granted anonymity to speak freely. “No one knows him.”

Sun reporter Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.

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