Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, a close ally of former senator John Ensign (R-Nev.), on Thursday defended his actions related to the scandal that prompted Ensign to resign his seat, calling himself “proud” of the way he handled the situation.
Ensign abruptly resigned earlier this month following the release of a Senate Ethics Committee report alleging that the Nevada Republican broke federal laws by trying to hide an affair with Cynthia Hampton, Ensign’s former treasurer and the wife of Ensign’s close personal friend and former aide, Doug Hampton. Ensign’s parents gave $96,000 to the Hampton family following the affair, a payment that the Ensigns have repeatedly characterized as a gift, but which the committee’s report alleges was a severance payment that violated federal laws.
Coburn’s name was mentioned repeatedly in the committee’s 75-page report, which described the Oklahoma Republican and former Ensign roommate as an intermediary between Ensign and Doug Hampton as the two allegedly negotiated the terms of compensation in exchange for Hampton keeping quiet about the affair.
In a C-SPAN “Newsmakers” interview with The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery and the Associated Press’s Andy Taylor, Coburn disputed the report’s characterization of him as an intermediary between Ensign and Hampton.
“That’s a totally inaccurate characterization of what happened,” Coburn said in the interview, which is set to air Sunday. “I got a phone call one day from Hampton saying, ‘Would you communicate a message to John?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. I’ll call John and ask him if he wants me to.’ I called John Ensign, and I said, ‘Do you want me to?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ And so, the story you hear is not an accurate reflection of what happened.”
Coburn, who had worked to persuade Ensign to end the affair with Cynthia Hampton, had previously acknowledged that he had taken part in discussions between Ensign and Doug Hampton, although he has disputed that he was involved in negotiating the terms of any alleged settlement.
The Ethics Committee’s report did not allege that Coburn was involved in any wrongdoing. But the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has requested that the committee further investigate whether Coburn broke any rules by becoming involved in the negotiations.
Coburn said Thursday that he has already testified before the committee and has not had further contact with the panel.
“I have no worries,” Coburn said. “What I did I would do exactly the same way again. We put two families back together, with multiple children and both marriages are stable right now. And what I did, I am proud of what I did and the way I did it. And there is nothing unethical in what we did. And the stories are just stories to be able to try to take away from what the real problems of our country are. I have no problems with what I did or how I did it.”
While Coburn stated that the Ensign and Hampton families are “back together,” according to the Ethics Committee report, Cynthia Hampton has since filed for divorce from Doug Hampton, has filed for bankruptcy and is in the process of moving to California to work for a Christian organization.