Friday, June 26, 2009 | 2 a.m.
- Fox News had Hampton’s letter earlier than it said (6-24-2009)
- For Ensign, a new lot in Congress (6-24-2009)
- Ensign apologizes during lunch with GOP senators (6-23-2009)
- Back in Washington, Ensign received warmly (6-23-2009)
- Ensign back in D.C.; group plans ethics complaint (6-22-2009)
- In state GOP, Ensign finds few defenders (6-21-2009)
- War of words between Ensign and Hampton escalates (6-20-2009)
Photographers greeted Republican Sen. John Ensign when he emerged from a meeting Thursday as fellow Republican senators inside were voting to replace him as their policy chairman.
Then, rounding the corner and starting down the Capitol building’s marble stairs, Ensign found himself alone.
No reporters, no aides.
It was an unlikely moment. Just days earlier, the press was staking out his office, trailing Ensign’s every step after he admitted to an affair with his former campaign treasurer, whose husband was one of his top aides at the time.
But Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s teary-eyed admission the night before of a liaison in Argentina changed all that. In the shifting world of political scandals, Ensign is yesterday’s news.
Running was required to catch up with Ensign.
We began the walk back to his office.
Pleasantries were exchanged.
How are you doing?
Your schedule today?
Just working hard.
Will you miss chairing the committee?
I always loved policy.
Ensign looked tired.
Usually an upbeat man, he can seem almost carefree at times. But on this day he was neither. Dressed in a sharp suit, as usual, he smiled and snapped his fingers a couple of times. But it seemed forced.
Sanford and Ensign are a study in contrasts.
Sanford poured out details of his affair in a wide-ranging news conference and answered more than a dozen questions from the media. Ensign offered a tidy few sentences in disclosing his own affair last week in Las Vegas.
No questions were taken. No answers given.
Yet so many questions remain about Ensign’s affair, questions his office has declined to answer: Did he pay a severance to the woman, Cynthia Hampton, as has been reported but not disclosed? Were she and her husband, Doug Hampton, terminated because of the affair, as the husband claims? Did they try to extort him as sources initially told some media outlets? These questions are now included in complaints before the Senate Ethics Committee and the Federal Election Commission.
So on the walk back to the senator’s office, the questions began.
Did you offer her any severance payment?
“You can ask me what you want to ask me. The response will be the same. I said what I’m going to say, last week.”
Have there been other affairs?
“I said what I’m going to say, last week.”
We had stepped into the portico and down the steps of the Capitol. The sun was shining.
Do you think you can still play a role, as a national spokesman for the party, as you once imagined?
“I’ve got to work hard. I’ve got to work harder than I’ve ever worked. And I plan to do that.”
Health care, for example. “I’m right in the middle of that.” (Ensign has a seat on the Senate Finance Committee hammering out the health care bill, one of the biggest items on the congressional agenda this year.)
“That’s an issue I plan on being very involved in.”
Sometime along this walk, as we pass the police and the violet pansies, a tall man in a T-shirt and sunglasses spots Ensign, gives a friendly greeting and offers an outstretched hand.
Did you know him?
Did you dismiss them because of the affair?
Nice try, he said.
Do you think you need to address the unanswered questions?
“I think we’ve answered all of the questions.”
What’s the role of Ed Gillespie (the Republican media guru and former Bush administration adviser) in helping you with this?
“We’ve said what we’re going to say.”
What about your plans to rebuild the Republican Party in Nevada?
“Still going to try. It’s going to be harder. Rededicate myself. I’m going to work very, very hard.”
But can you go on the campaign trail, raise money?
“The challenges are much greater.”
We have entered the office building, passed the metal detectors.
Were you ever at the C Street house with Sanford?
(During Sanford’s news conference, the governor, a former congressman, mentioned that he has been working with C Street, a Christian Bible study group he was familiar with from his time in Washington. The phrase C Street has been used to describe the Christian fellowship house located on the street of the same name where Ensign lives with other lawmakers. Doug Hampton claims several men close to Ensign were at the home in February when the senator was confronted about the affair.)
“My personal living arrangements, I never comment on.”
“It’s private business.”
We have made the left turn down the hall to his office suite.
Ensign opened the door to one of the private entrances. We said our goodbyes. The door closed behind him.