A report by the Senate ethics committee says recently-resigned Sen. John Ensign broke federal criminal and civil laws and could have been expelled from the Senate had he not resigned over conduct stemming from an affair with his former aide’s wife.
The report says Ensign conspired with Doug Hampton, the aide whose wife he had slept with, to help Hampton break federal lobbying laws that prevent high-level staffers from lobbying immediately after they leave a congressional office.
The report also says Ensign made false statements to the Federal Election Commission regarding a $96,000 severance Ensign’s parents paid to Hampton, and that a portion of that severance payment constituted an unlawful campaign contribution.
The ethics committee referred the report’s findings to the Department of Justice and FEC for potential criminal probes.
Ensign’s affair with Cynthia Hampton began in November 2007, a period in which both Doug and Cynthia Hampton were employed by Ensign’s political offices.
After the Hamptons’ home in Summerlin, Nev., was burglarized, the couple moved in with Ensign and his wife briefly while their home was repaired.
It was then that Ensign initiated the affair, the report says. Ensign called Cynthia Hampton and asked to meet her. She asked if he had “lost [his] mind,” and he said, “yes.”
“According to Ms. Hampton, Senator Ensign ‘just [wouldn’t] stop,’ and ‘kept calling and calling,’ and, ‘would never take no for an answer.’”
“Ms. Hampton was in a vulnerable emotional state and a ‘mess’ at the time,” the report says, her house having just been burglarized.
Fearful of losing her job, Cynthia Hampton repeatedly relayed her concerns to Ensign and even sought counseling.
Then, Doug Hampton discovered the affair two days before Christmas, 2007, when he accidentally viewed a text message from Ensign to Cynthia Hampton that said, “How wonderful it is … Scared, but excited.” The Hampton couple were, at that moment, traveling in a car caravan to the airport. When they arrived, Doug Hampton “jumped out of his car and chased Senator Ensign in the airport parking lot.”
Christmas Eve, the two couples met, with the adulterous couple swearing to end their tryst, the report says. The two families celebrated Christmas day together.
Only weeks later, Ensign began texting Cynthia Hampton again, and the affair resumed, the report says.
“Senator Ensign told Ms. Hampton on more than one occasion that he wanted to marry her,” the report says, including during their attendance at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.
In February, Doug Hampton discovered the affair had continued during a taxpayer-funded trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, surreptitiously asking to borrow Ensign’s cell phone and viewing the call history, the report says.
Ensign had listed Cynthia Hampton as “Aunt Judy” in his phone, the report says.
Doug Hampton sought Ensign’s longtime spiritual adviser, Tim Coe, who contacted Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn to help him stage an intervention, which took place at the C Street House, a Capitol Hill home where several Christian members of Congress live together.
At the intervention, Ensign expressed remorse and even penned an apology letter to Cynthia Hampton breaking off the affair. Immediately after it was sent, however, Ensign phoned Cynthia Hampton to tell her to disregard it as “he had written [the letter] only for the benefit of the men who were confronting him,” the report says.
Two days after the intervention, Doug Hampton spotted his wife’s and Ensign’s cars outside a hotel in Nevada.
Doug Hampton called Ensign spiritual adviser Coe who then called Ensign and said, “I know exactly where you are. I know exactly what you are doing. Put on your pants and go home,” the report says.
Ensign told his wife he loved Cynthia Hampton and moved into his parents’ house, the report says.
The affair continued for five more months and Ensign used creative ways to contact Cynthia Hampton surreptitiously, including secret cell phones, false calendar items (to throw off Doug Hampton) and fictitious email addresses, the report says.
Coe continued his efforts to stop the affair, involving Ensign’s father and staging another intervention at the C Street House.
In the last two months, the affair was only sporadic, the report says.
Cynthia Hampton’s attitude was “’my life is ruined, so whatever,’ and that she agreed to see the senator only because his persistence wore her down,” the report says.
A final email from Cynthia Hampton to Ensign in August 2008 pleaded with Ensign to stop contacting her; “my life is in shambles,” she wrote.
Doug and Cynthia Hampton divorced, and Cynthia recently filed for bankruptcy, the report says.
Towards the end of the affair, Ensign began negotiating with Doug and Cynthia Hampton over severance payments and “transition payments” to help them move on.
The discussions included money and assistance from Ensign to help Hampton find employment in business or lobbying.
In April, 2008, Ensign’s father paid the Hamptons $96,000. The report cites contemporaneous documents showing the money was clearly considered severance to the two Ensign employees by both Ensign and the Hamptons, contrary to later statements by Ensign.
Meanwhile, Ensign was implementing a shredding policy in his Senate office to destroy sensitive documents, as well as avoiding email to prevent permanent records of correspondence on Senate email servers, the report says.
Also during that period, Ensign began helping Doug Hampton locate lobbying clients by contacting his constituents and Nevada contacts.
Federal law prohibits high-ranking congressional staff from lobbying for one year after they leave a congressional office.
On one occasion, when one of Ensign’s constituents declined to hire Hampton as a lobbyist, Ensign instructed a staffer to call the constituent and “jack him up to high heaven and tell him that he is cut off from the office,” the report says.
The constituent was angry, but understood he was not to contact Ensign again, the report says, adding that the staffer who made the call on behalf of Ensign felt it was wrong at the time.
The report says evidence indicates Hampton actually began to lobby for Allegiant Airlines during his last month of employment at Ensign’s office and began lobbying for the company while still on staff.
On the third business day after his last day in Ensign’s office, Doug Hampton began lobbying for Allegiant Airlines in violation of federal law, the report says.
Ensign set up an office procedure to allow Doug Hampton to lobby him for clients while shielding the contacts from most of his staff, the report says.
Staffers made clear to Ensign what he was doing was in violation of federal law, the report says.
Ensign continued to assist Hampton as he lobbied for several clients over a period of several months.
More negotiations over money
By spring of 2009, Doug Hampton retained a lawyer, who contacted Coburn. The three began negotiations with Ensign over money for restitution.
Doug Hampton’s lawyer suggested $8 million, but Coburn thought that amount was “ridiculous,” the report says.
Further discussions resulted in a suggested figure of $2.8 million.
Ensign refused to pay, and Doug Hampton took the issue to the media, writing a letter to Fox News host Megyn Kelly June 11, 2009 and forwarding the letter to Sen. Rick Santorum, who forwarded it to Ensign.
Ensign called an emergency staff meeting disclosing the affair to his staff. The meeting lasted until 3:00 a.m. on June 16, 2009, the report says.
As Doug Hampton began to feed more details to the press, the issue spiraled out of Ensign’s control. The report says Ensign made false statements to the FEC regarding the $96,000 severance payment to the Hamptons, because the payment was technically illegal.