By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 18, 2009
A Las Vegas area woman who once worked for Sen. John Ensign of Nevada acknowledged yesterday that she was the senator's mistress in an extramarital affair that has cost the onetime emerging GOP star his spot at the leadership table with Senate Republicans.
Cynthia L. Hampton, who was treasurer for Ensign's political committees, said she had an affair with the senator that lasted more than eight months. Her statement was issued by an attorney retained by her and her husband, Douglas D. Hampton, who also served as one of Ensign's most senior advisers.
The Hamptons declined to comment further, requesting privacy as they consider how to address the issue in the near future, said Daniel Albregts, a personal-injury lawyer in Las Vegas.
"It is unfortunate the Senator chose to air this very personal matter, especially after the Hamptons did everything possible to keep this matter private. 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," Albregts said in a statement.
Ensign's office confirmed that Cynthia Hampton is the woman he did not identify during a news conference Tuesday when he revealed the relationship. His office declined to answer questions about why the senator chose this week to make public the affair, which ended last year.
Ensign remained in Las Vegas yesterday, after flying home to make the announcement, and is expected to remain there at least through the weekend. The Senate is debating a tourism promotion bill considered key to his state's casino industry, and later this week the chamber will begin debate on a $106 billion spending measure for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A staunch conservative, Ensign supported a constitutional amendment that would have strictly prohibited same-sex marriage, and he also has called on other political figures caught in sex scandals to resign. Three weeks ago, he visited Iowa and stoked speculation that he was considering a presidential run in 2012.
Early yesterday, Ensign surrendered his chairmanship of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, considered the No. 4 spot in leadership ranks, a post that comes with a staff of more than 20 aides who help craft policy positions for GOP senators.
"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," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement, which came after speaking by phone with Ensign.
Ensign's colleagues, who elevated him to the leadership position uncontested last winter, remained stunned by the news, the latest in a string of negative developments for a GOP conference that has fallen from 55 senators to 40 in three years. "I haven't done anything except say a prayer for him," Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) told reporters.
"It's a no-comment day," said Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.).
A few senators said they hoped Ensign would return to the chamber soon to resume his work rather than resigning outright. "These situations happen. I don't know the facts surrounding John's situation, but Lord knows if we kicked everybody out of here who made a mistake, we'd be short-handed forever," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.).
According to an official timeline Ensign's staff provided Tuesday, his affair began in December 2007 and continued until last August. John and Darlene Ensign were separated from April to July last year, according to his office. Both Ensigns issued statements Tuesday saying that their marriage "has become stronger."
The Hamptons and the Ensigns, who live in the same neighborhood, were close friends, according to statements issued by the Ensigns.
The senator hired Doug Hampton as his administrative assistant, one of the two most senior positions in the office, beginning Nov. 8, 2006, according to congressional records. From April 2007 through March 2008, Hampton was paid $162,000, almost the maximum allowed for aides, according to LegiStorm, the congressional watchdog that monitors staff salaries.
Before her husband started working for Ensign, Cynthia Hampton was already a consultant for the senator's reelection committee, Ensign for Senate, but in 2007 she also became a consultant for his leadership political action committee, Battle Born PAC. She earned less than $2,000 a month for her work throughout 2007, but her pay doubled in early 2008 when the chief treasurer was dismissed in an unrelated legal investigation. Cynthia Hampton took on the work of the fired employee and officially became committee treasurer.
The Hamptons' work for Ensign ended abruptly in April 2008. Cynthia Hampton's last payments came April 29 and 30, totaling almost $2,400, which was her usual compensation.
Douglas Hampton's last day on the Senate payroll was May 1, 2008. He was paid almost $20,000 for one month's work in April 2008, an amount representing an additional two weeks of pay, according to LegiStorm's records.
Last year, Ensign chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign operation that spent $94 million in the 2008 election cycle. The Hamptons' son worked during the spring and summer in the research department for $1,000 a month, his last payment coming Aug. 15, around the time the affair ended.
Staff writer James V. Grimaldi, research director Lucy Shackelford and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.