By Paul Kane and Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Three days after confessing an extramarital affair with a campaign aide, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) yesterday accused his former mistress's husband of trying to extract a financial payout from the Nevada Republican.
Ensign's office released a statement Friday charging that Douglas Hampton sought a large payment from Ensign, although the senator's office refused to say how much money Hampton was seeking and whether there had been any negotiations over a payout.
"Within the past month, Doug Hampton's legal counsel made exorbitant demands for cash and other financial benefits on behalf of his client. Doug Hampton's outrageous demand was referred to Senator Ensign's legal counsel, who is handling the matter going forward," Tory Mazzola, Ensign's spokesman, said in a statement provided to several media outlets.
The formal statement from Ensign's office followed a whisper campaign carried out by the senator's allies over the past several days about what prompted the Nevada Republican's revelation that he had an affair last year with Cynthia L. Hampton, who had served as the treasurer of his various political committees.
The Ensign and Hampton families were lifelong friends, living in the same Las Vegas-area neighborhood.
"I have no comment on anything," Daniel Albregts, the Hamptons' attorney, said in a brief interview yesterday. Albregts has said the Hamptons are weighing how to respond to the Ensign statement.
On Tuesday, Ensign announced that he had an affair with an unnamed former campaign staffer whose husband was also a top Senate staffer, while his staff provided enough background information to clearly identify the couple as the Hamptons. Both sides have said the affair began in December 2007. In April 2008, Ensign and his wife, Darlene, separated. At that time, Doug and Cynthia Hampton abruptly left Ensign's offices.
The Ensigns reconciled last July, but, according to statements from both families, the senator's affair with Cynthia Hampton continued into August.
According to the statement Ensign's office issued yesterday, Doug Hampton's lawyer approached Ensign's lawyer last month about a financial settlement. Mazzola today declined to address several issues left unclear in that statement, including when the senator rejected the financial request from Hampton. Ensign's office has also declined to say whether the senator -- hailing from a family of multimillionaires in the casino industry -- ever made payments to the Hamptons from personal funds after they stopped working for him.
According to congressional and Federal Election Commission records, the Hamptons received modest sums from Ensign's official accounts as they left his employ. Cynthia Hampton received payments covering her regular work, and Doug Hampton received an additional $6,000, which Ensign's office has said was back pay for unused vacation time.
Ensign's office, however, said the decision to publicly reveal the affair was not driven by the request for money. An aide said Ensign decided to go public after learning that Hampton had written to Fox News with the details of the affair, asking that network undertake an investigation into Ensign's affair with his wife. In the letter, Hampton suggested he wanted to file a lawsuit against the senator.
Mazzola would not say how the senator or his aides came to learn of Hampton's outreach to Fox News, only that once they were alerted to it, Ensign quickly returned home and sought to announce the affair on his own terms.
"Doug Hampton first approached the media. He approached a major television news channel before Tuesday. We learned of this fact before the press conference," Mazzola said.
Fox, meanwhile, was left with its own explaining to do yesterday after it was revealed that the network passed on the chance to publicize the allegations about Ensign's affair.
After the Nevada Republican acknowledged the affair Tuesday, a Fox producer failed to tell his bosses that he had the letter from Douglas Hampton, and Fox never reported it. The Las Vegas Sun disclosed the letter's contents Friday.
"Sometimes a ball gets by," said Tom Lowell, senior producer of Fox's "American Newsroom." "This one got by." It was, he said, "my mistake."
Hampton had written to the program's co-anchor, Megyn Kelly, saying he was not giving the information to any other news outlet. Lowell said his primary concern was protecting Kelly, who "has any number of people who have stalked her."
Fox says it never received the letter that Douglas Hampton says he mailed to Kelly, but it was later attached to an e-mail that the network received at 12:21 p.m. Monday.
"The unethical behavior and immoral choice of Senator Ensign has been confronted by me and others on a number of occasions over this past year," Hampton wrote. "In fact one of the confrontations took place in February 2008 at his home in Washington DC with a group of his peers. One of the attendee's [sic] was Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma as well as several other men who are close to the Senator. Senator Ensign's conduct and relentless pursuit of my wife led to our dismissal in April of 2008. I would like to say he stopped his heinous conduct and pursuit upon our leaving, but that was not the case and his actions did not subside until August of 2008."
Coburn is among those living in a group house with Ensign on Capitol Hill.
Hampton wrote that he has "great respect and affection for Fox News. . . . I could have sought the most liberal, Republican hating media to expose this story, but there are people's lives at stake and justice is about proper process as well as outcome. Senator Ensign has no business serving in the US Senate anymore!"
News organizations often struggle with questions of whether to pursue allegations of sexual impropriety by politicians. When ABC reported in 2006 that then-representative Mark Foley had sent sexually explicit messages to teenage House pages, several news organizations later acknowledged they had received, and declined to investigate, one of the milder messages.
Lowell said Hampton called the Fox booking desk before sending the e-mail Monday. "He seemed evasive," Lowell said. "His entire focus seemed to be talking to Megyn." Kelly asked whether she should call Hampton, Lowell recalled, but he said the network should do more research first.
"As the day went on, it fell off my radar," Lowell said. When he heard the next day that Ensign had scheduled a news conference, "at that point I realized there might be credibility to these claims. . . . Should I have paid a little more attention to this e-mail? Sure."
After the news conference, Lowell passed Hampton's contact information to his Washington bureau but did not send the letter or show it to senior Fox executives, who have expressed unhappiness at not being informed. "The letter was an allegation of an affair," Lowell said. "I don't know that it would have shined a light on anything new."
The letter also captures the anger of Ensign's former aide and friend, who says the senator's actions "have ruined our lives and careers and left my family in shambles."
Staff writer James V. Grimaldi contributed to this report.