Affair Prompts Ensign to Step Down From Leadership Role

Nevada Republican says cheating on wife "the worst thing I have ever done"

By David Espo
|  Wednesday, Jun 17, 2009  |  Updated 2:21 PM PDT
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Nevada Sen. John Ensign stepped down from his leadership post in the Senate after admitting an extramarital affair.

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WASHINGTON — A former campaign aide to Sen. John Ensign confirmed her involvement Wednesday in an extramarital affair with the conservative Republican, lamented his decision to "air this very personal matter" and said she eventually would tell her side of the story.

 

An attorney for Cindy Hampton and her husband, Doug, issued a statement on their behalf as Ensign phoned in his resignation as a member of the Senate GOP leadership. The senator's aides refused to return phone calls seeking additional details about a dalliance that pushed the 51-year-old Ensign's political career to the brink of disaster.

An Associated Press review of federal records showed Cynthia Hampton received a promotion and a pay raise around the time of the affair at one political entity controlled by Ensign, and a pay raise at a second. Her husband was an employee in Ensign's Senate office.

Ensign told a hastily arranged news conference on Tuesday he had an extramarital affair with a woman on his campaign payroll for several months, ending last August.

In Las Vegas on Wednesday, lawyer Daniel Albregts issued a statement that said "Doug and Cindy Hampton can confirm that they are the individuals referenced by Senator 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," the lawyer said. "It is equally unfortunate that he did so without concern for the effect such an announcement would have on the Hampton family. In time the Hamptons will be ready and willing to tell their side of the story."

Ensign has said he intends to remain in the Senate.

He offered to resign as head of the Republican Policy Committee in a midday phone call with Sen. Mitch McConnell, the party leader.

"He's 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," said McConnell, R-Ky.

Ensign is a member of the Christian ministry Promise Keepers and has championed causes pushed by the GOP's conservative religious base while seeking to raise his political profile for a possible presidential campaign.

The senator's fall from grace was a further blow for Republicans struggling to recover from recent election reversals as well as the political defection of moderate Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Ensign's announcement also added to an appearance of disarray for the party in Nevada, where GOP Gov. Jim Gibbons has been embroiled in nearly nonstop controversy throughout his term.

Ensign's position within the leadership was a reflection of his popularity among the rank-and-file, but not a single Republican senator came to his public defense in the first hours after his announcement.

At his news conference on Tuesday, Ensign said the affair he had last year was "the worst thing I have ever done in my life. If there was ever anything in my life that I could take back, this would be it."

The disclosure resurrected questions about a two-week period in 2002, when Ensign abruptly dropped from public view. A person familiar with that episode, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Tuesday the senator told a close associate the absence followed an earlier affair.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ensign's office said he had carried out a consensual affair from December 2007 through August 2008 with a "campaign staffer who worked at Ensign for Senate and Battleborn PAC from Dec. 2006 to May 2008. The campaign employee was married to an official Senate staffer who worked for Senator Ensign. As of May 2008 neither employee worked for Senator Ensign," it said.

Neither Ensign nor his aides would name the woman or her husband, but the statement from the Hamptons' lawyer removed any mystery about her identity.

Federal records show Cynthia Hampton was on the payroll of Ensign's Battle Born Political Action Committee at $1,385.24 a month until she was appointed treasurer and her salary was doubled to $2,771.50 starting in February 2008.

Her salary also doubled at Ensign's campaign committee, where she was treasurer, beginning around the time the affair began. It went from $500 a month to $1,000 a month.

Records also show Doug Hampton received a monthly salary of $13,555 as an administrative assistant in Ensign's Senate office. He received a payment of $19,679 for his final month of employment, and was off the payroll on May 1, 2008, according to Senate records.

Additionally, the National Republican Senatorial Committee made twice-monthly payments, generally $500 apiece, to Brandon Hampton, who Republican officials said was the couple's son. The payments began in March of last year and ended in August, when Ensign's office says the affair ended.

"This really doesn't help a Republican Party that has tried to run as a party of family values," said Chuck Muth, a self-described conservative-libertarian activist. "It absolutely makes the party look hugely hypocritical."

Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada-Reno, called Ensign's announcement "another shot in the gut to Nevada Republicans."

"The party is in disarray, and Ensign was at least a bright spot. He was respected," Herzik said.

Ensign declined during his announcement to mention the name of the campaign aide involved in the affair but described her and her husband as good friends.

"Our families were close," a weary-looking Ensign said. "That closeness put me into situations which led to my inappropriate behavior. We caused deep pain to both families and for that I am sorry."

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