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July 27, 2014

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SENATOR’S SCANDAL:

Unanswered: Why he told

Ensign and his staff silent as more details — and more questions — emerge on his affair with a former staffer.

Image

Leila Navidi / FILE

As the details about his affair with a former staffer grow more sordid and the political repercussions escalate, Sen. John Ensign and his staff refuse to answer questions.

The Hamptons

A lawyer for Cynthia and Doug, who both worked for Ensign, confirmed the affair Wednesday, calling the senator’s decision to come forward “unfortunate.”

The politics

Ensign resigned his leadership post in the GOP Wednesday, and strategists say the once-rising star now faces a “hypocrisy” problem as a staunch conservative.

The Hamptons

Doug Hampton, husband of Sen. John Ensign's affair partner, Cynthia Hampton, appears in this KLAS-TV video Wednesday. The Hamptons were both employees of Ensign when the affair reportedly took place, and in a letter to Fox News, Doug Hampton blamed Ensign's Launch slideshow »

Ensign Admits Affair

U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., acknowledged an extramarital affair with a campaign staff member Tuesday afternoon at the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas.

Sen. John Ensign admits affair

Sen. John Ensign holds a press conference announcing his affair with a staff member at the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas on Tuesday. Launch slideshow »

Broken Promises

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  • Sen. John Ensign read a statement about his extramarital affair with a member of his campaign staff at a press conference on Tuesday, June 16, 2009.
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Sen. John Ensign, with his wife, Darlene, and their children, speaks to supporters during a Republican party at the Red Rock Resort on Nov. 7, 2006.

Beyond the Sun

UPDATE: Ensign’s office: Woman’s husband approached media with story

Neither the FBI nor Metro Police in Las Vegas is investigating any claim that Sen. John Ensign’s former mistress or her husband tried to blackmail the senator for hush money about the affair, spokesmen for the agencies confirmed Wednesday.

The alleged blackmail is the only explanation so far for Ensign’s decision to volunteer that he engaged in an affair more than a year ago.

Ensign reportedly told his Senate colleagues that he publicly acknowledged the affair Tuesday because the couple had tried to extort money from him.

Cynthia Hampton and her husband, Doug Hampton, worked for Ensign, and the couple were — at one time — close friends of Ensign and his wife, Darlene.

Nevada politics were thrown into tumult Tuesday with the admission by the staunch Christian conservative that he had had an affair with an employee.

Ensign, whose office is not replying to requests for interviews, has said he intends to remain in the Senate, though on Wednesday he phoned in his resignation from a top Republican leadership position.

Ensign was chairman of the Senate’s Republican Policy Committee, the No. 4 post in Senate leadership. The senator, who is 51 and has three children, was positioning himself as a new voice for the troubled party.

Word that neither the FBI nor Metro is investigating was just one in a series of developments Wednesday that raised still more questions about Ensign’s relationship with the Hamptons.

“There are a lot of legitimate questions,” said a Nevada Republican operative who was granted anonymity to speak freely.

Chief among them:

• Has Ensign contacted authorities about the alleged extortion? If not, why not?

• What other reason could Ensign have for revealing the affair?

• Were payments to the Hamptons, documented in Senate and federal election records, intended to ensure their silence about the affair?

• Was the subsequent employment of Doug Hampton at Ensign-connected political consulting firm November Inc. also intended to win his silence? Did Ensign help secure a consulting contract for Hampton from Allegiant Air, which is a significant contributor to Ensign’s campaign funds?

Ending their own silence, the Hamptons appear ready for a public fight.

Daniel Albregts, their attorney, issued a statement Wednesday: “Doug and Cindy Hampton can confirm that they are the individuals referenced by Sen. Ensign during his press conference.

“It is unfortunate the senator chose to air this very personal matter, especially after the Hamptons did everything possible to keep this matter private,” Albregts said, reading a statement to the Sun.

“It is equally unfortunate that he did so without concern for the effect such an announcement would have on the Hampton family,” the statement continued.

“In time the Hamptons will be ready and willing to tell their side of the story.”

Cynthia Hampton, who was treasurer of Ensign’s personal campaign committee and his leadership Battle Born Political Action Committee, saw her salary double during the time of the affair, according to federal election documents reviewed by the Sun.

Ensign’s office said the affair began in late 2007 and ended in August 2008.

In that time, Ensign was chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, struggling to raise money and recruit top-notch candidates for the November 2008 election. Under Ensign’s direction, Republicans lost eight seats last year, which could grow to nine if Al Franken wins the still-contested Minnesota seat.

Cynthia Hampton was paid nearly $1,400 per month for most of 2007 as treasurer of Ensign’s Battle Born PAC.

Her salary increased slightly in January 2008 but then doubled to nearly $2,800 per month in February 2008 and stayed at that higher rate through March and April, when she left the job.

She also made $500 per month in late 2007 at the Ensign for Senate campaign committee.

Hampton’s 19-year-old son, Brandon Hampton, was paid about $1,000 monthly from March to August 2008, for a total of $5,400, by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, of which Ensign was chairman.

Brandon Hampton was paid for “salary” and “research policy consulting,” according to Federal Election Commission documents.

The payments were first reported by Sun partner Politico.

Doug Hampton received $19,679 from the senator’s office for one month, April 1 to May 1, 2008 — a sum substantially higher than his normal salary, according to Senate records reviewed by the Sun.

Doug Hampton earned about $160,000 annually as a top aide, one of the highest salaries in Ensign’s office. Hampton was hired Nov. 8, 2006.

The extra pay for that one month could have come from unused vacation or sick time, and severance payments are not unusual if an employee is discharged.

The Hamptons both stopped working for the senator in May 2008.

Ensign remained away from Washington on Wednesday, as the story of his affair and his lost leadership post filled the halls on an otherwise lackluster day.

Ensign’s office was hunkered down. Most calls to the office and aides went straight to voice mail.

When in Washington, Ensign lives on Capitol Hill with other lawmakers in a shared house that has been described as associated with a Christian religious fellowship. Ensign is also a longtime member of Promise Keepers, the men’s Christian group that expresses commitment to marriage and family.

Ensign, who is not expected back in the capital until next week, must overcome a “hypocrisy” problem given his history as a social conservative, Republican operatives said this week.

Disclosure of the affair has also focused new attention on an earlier unexplained absence. In 2002, after being away for two weeks, Ensign returned to the Senate, declining at the time to address what he told the Sun was a personal matter.

This week, Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, a housemate from Oklahoma, described Ensign as having “worked hard to build his marriage back in the last six months; he’s doing what he needs to do as a man.”

When asked whether Ensign still has a future as a Republican leader, Coburn was circumspect.

“I don’t know,” he said. “He is a bright young man, and lots of people make mistakes.”

Another housemate, Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, took a long pause before saying he and the others were surprised by the situation. DeMint called Ensign “a great friend,” adding, “I think he’s a great leader and obviously my hope is that he’ll continue to serve in the Senate a long time. But that’s really up to the people of Nevada.”

The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, issued a brief statement after Ensign called in to resign as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee.

McConnell said the senator had “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.”

The Associated Press and Sun reporter Mary Manning contributed to this report. Coolican and German reported from Las Vegas and Mascaro from Washington.

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