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August 29, 2014

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THE SENATOR’S SCANDAL:

War of words between Ensign and Hampton escalates

Ensign’s office says mistress’ husband made demands that were ‘exorbitant,’ ‘outrageous’

Image

Isaac Brekken / Associated Press

Doug Hampton is pictured outside his home on Friday. The office of Republican Sen. John Ensign, who had a nine-month-long affair with Hampton’s wife Cynthia, said money had been demanded of him on Doug Hampton’s behalf.

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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Beyond the Sun

Republican Sen. John Ensign’s office turned the aggressor on Friday, three days after he admitted his affair with the wife of a former top aide, saying money had been demanded of him on the husband’s behalf.

The senator’s claim follows by a day the disclosure in the Sun that the husband, Doug Hampton, had written a letter to a Fox News anchorwoman, pleading for her to publicly expose the affair between his wife, Cynthia Hampton, and Ensign. She also worked for Ensign.

On Friday, Ensign’s office shot back.

“Within the past month, Doug Hampton’s legal counsel made exorbitant demands for cash and other financial benefits on behalf of his client,” Ensign’s office said. “Doug Hampton’s outrageous demand was referred to Senator Ensign’s legal counsel, who is handling the matter going forward.”

The Hamptons’ attorney, Daniel Albregts, declined to comment late Friday.

The escalating dispute between the once rising Republican star and his former staffers continues to jolt the Republican Party in Washington and Nevada.

Ensign resigned his No. 4 spot in party leadership in the Senate, and now his political future is being questioned.

Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley told Politico she had not considered a run for the Senate when Ensign is up for reelection in 2012, but the events “created a calculation that wasn’t in the equation before.”

Doug Hampton’s letter to Fox News presented a detailed and at times frenetic case for the station to investigate how “Senator Ensign’s conduct and relentless pursuit of my wife led to our dismissal.”

Some in Washington were struck by the intense tone of the single-spaced letter by Hampton, who was paid $160,000 a year as a senatorial aide.

The letter was addressed to Megyn Kelly, co-host of the Fox morning show “America’s Newsroom,” and was dated five days before Ensign went public with the affair.

Ensign’s office said the senator stepped forward because Hampton had “approached a major television new channel.”

Fox didn’t pursue the story. A Fox News spokeswoman declined to comment to the Sun on Friday, referring the paper instead to an interview the show’s producer did with the Huffington Post.

In that interview, senior producer Tom Lowell said Hampton contacted Fox News on Monday by an e-mail that included the letter as an attachment.

Lowell said that in an interview with a staff member on Tuesday, Hampton “seemed evasive and not credible, thus we didn’t pursue it ... Clearly this guy had a story to tell and we just didn’t get to it before the senator got to it.”

Later Tuesday, Ensign publicly admitted his affair with Cynthia Hampton, saying it began in December 2007 and ended in August 2008.

Lowell emphasized that Fox News did not tip off Ensign about the letter.

Then why didn’t Fox pursue the story after Ensign’s announcement?

“Sometimes a ball gets by,” Lowell told The Washington Post on Friday. “This one got by,” Lowell said.

One part of the letter, however, raised the question of how widely Ensign’s affair was known in the Senate, as the Nevadan rose to become his party’s fourth-ranking leader.

Hampton wrote that he and others had confronted Ensign about his “unethical behavior and immoral choice” on a number of occasions over the past year.

He claimed such a “confrontation” in February 2008 at Ensign’s home in Washington with a group of his peers. He wrote that one of the attendees was Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, “as well as several other men who are close to the senator.”

Ensign lives in a shared home on Capitol Hill with Coburn and other lawmakers, not an uncommon practice.

The Ensign home has been connected to a Christian religious fellowship, and Ensign is a member of the Christian men’s group Promise Keepers.

Several of the housemates, including Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Republican Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee, were not present for the “confrontation,” the Sun learned Friday. DeMint’s office said Friday that Ensign told him of the affair last week.

Coburn declined to comment, though he had said earlier in the week that Ensign has “worked hard to build his marriage back in the last six months. He’s doing what he needs to do as a man.”

Another housemate, Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, a Democrat, declined to discuss Ensign. No House members are thought to have participated in the confrontation.

The February confrontation occurred while Ensign was chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, raising money and recruiting candidates for the November 2008 election.

Top Republican leaders in the Senate, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, said they knew nothing of the affair until Ensign disclosed it Tuesday.

Ensign’s office also said Friday the Hamptons and their son, Brandon, were paid based on their work for the senator.

Cynthia Hampton’s salary doubled to nearly $2,400 monthly when she was promoted to treasurer of one campaign committee during the time of the affair, and her pay for work at his personal campaign office doubled to $1,000 a month.

Doug Hampton’s final month’s pay was nearly $20,000 — more than the normal rate.

Brandon Hampton was paid $1,000 monthly during his summer job at the national campaign committee Ensign chaired.

An Ensign spokesman explained Friday that Cynthia Hampton’s pay increased as she took on additional duties and Doug Hampton’s pay of $5,949 above salary was for unused vacation time, which “is in line with our office policy.”

Their son was hired as an intern after Doug Hampton made an inquiry to the national campaign office headed by Ensign, but “Ensign was not consulted as part of the decision to hire Brandon Hampton,” the spokesman said.

Doug and Cynthia Hampton stopped working for the senator in May of 2008, three months before the affair ended. The senator recommended Doug Hampton for his current job, at Allegiant Air, a Las Vegas-based airline whose CEO is an Ensign supporter, “just as he has done for other staff members,” an Ensign spokesman said.

Legal scholars said Friday that whether extortion of Ensign was being attempted — as sources initially suggested to some news outlets — would depend on the details and the state of jurisdiction because laws vary. An attorney can demand sums, even outrageous ones, to encourage settlement of a pending lawsuit. That’s not extortion, that’s playing hardball.

Yet Nevada law allows that extortion can occur when threats are made to embarrass or disclose a secret, even if the gain is not financial.

Ensign remains away from Washington and is expected to return next week.

Sun chief investigative reporter Jeff German contributed to this story in Las Vegas.

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