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January 29, 2015

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The Senator’s Scandal:

Ensign to stay in Senate, seek reelection

Fallout from affair, including ethics complaints, leaves him undeterred

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Doug Hampton interview, part 2 - July 2009

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Doug Hampton interview - July 2009

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Republican Sen. John Ensign said Monday that not only does he have no intention of resigning in light of his affair and his parents’ payout to the woman’s family, he plans to seek reelection when his term is up in 2012.

Ensign told the Las Vegas Sun he has received calls and e-mails of encouragement from supporters both in Nevada and Washington.

When asked Monday whether he had any thoughts about stepping down, Ensign said his supporters are sending one message: “They say, ‘Don’t.’ ”

“I fully plan on running for reelection,” Ensign said late Monday evening. “I’m going to work to earn their respect back.”

The two-term Republican senator was back on offense Monday, saying his support is coming from his fellow senators as well as those “on both sides” of Senate leadership.

Ensign said his supporters are telling him, “Keep your head up. This thing will pass.”

Discomfort over the Ensign affair escalated last week after the senator disclosed that his parents had paid $96,000 to the family of Cynthia Hampton, the campaign staffer with whom Ensign had the affair.

She and her husband, Doug Hampton, one of the senator’s top aides, had both left the senator’s employment around the time of the payment in April 2008.

The affair has drawn in Ensign’s colleagues, including Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, a housemate in the Christian home they share in Washington. Mark Sanford, the South Carolina governor who recently admitted an affair with an Argentine woman, has said he sought counseling with those from the C Street house.

In a televised interview last week with Sun columnist Jon Ralston, Doug Hampton said Ensign paid his wife more than $25,000 in severance — a sum that raised alarm because it was not reported, as would have been required, on campaign disclosure statements.

Knowingly failing to report such a payment could be a felony violation of campaign finance law, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The organization has filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee and asked the Justice Department for a criminal investigation.

Doug Hampton also said Coburn had suggested a payment to the family, a claim Coburn has strenuously denied. Coburn has said he suggested only that Ensign repair the damage he had done.

Ensign’s father is a wealthy former casino mogul, and his parents structured the payments in a way that allows them to avoid taxes, each providing four members of the Hampton family payments of $12,000 each — the ceiling for gifts.

Ensign’s statement from his lawyer last week insisted the “payments were made as gifts, accepted as gifts and complied with tax rules governing gifts.”

Tax experts have questioned whether the Ensigns are in the clear, saying just because a payment is called a gift does not make it so, and suggesting the paper trail should be investigated.

Ensign’s colleagues failed to rally to his side late last week as Ensign revealed the payments.

Senate Minory Leader Mitch McConnell declined to comment when approached by the Sun late Thursday as the Senate was closing for the week, as did other Republican colleagues and leaders.

Ensign said Monday an ethics investigation in the Senate is up to the committee, but he stands by the statement from his attorney that the payments were gifts. “I think the facts speak pretty clearly,” he said.

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