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Politics Digest: Coburn Counseled Ensign to End Affair

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

ENSIGN AFFAIR

Coburn Says He Counseled Colleague

Aides to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) acknowledged Wednesday that he counseled Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) to break off an affair with a staffer, but they denied allegations that Coburn suggested giving the woman and her husband financial assistance to start a new life.

"Dr. Coburn did everything he could to encourage Senator Ensign to end his affair and to persuade Senator Ensign to repair the damage he had caused to his own marriage and the Hamptons' marriage," Coburn spokesman John Hart said in a statement. "Had Senator Ensign followed Dr. Coburn's advice, this episode would have ended, and been made public, long ago."

The statement came in reaction to a televised interview with former Ensign aide Doug Hampton, who said that the Nevada Republican persisted in his pursuit of his wife, Cynthia, despite pleas from Coburn and others to end the dalliance.

Hampton, who has not previously talked publicly about the scandal, also alleged that Coburn and other intermediaries urged Ensign to pay the Hamptons to help "take care of" the affair, according to excerpts of the interview.

"These men were the ones that said, what we need to do is get Doug Hampton's home paid for, we need to get Doug Hampton some money and we need to get his family to Colorado," Hampton said, adding that they were discussing giving the Hamptons "millions" of dollars.

"Senator Tom Coburn asked and was involved in these negotiations out of goodwill and good faith," Hampton said, referring to "the belief from Tom Coburn and many that some restitution needs to take place here."

Coburn's office disputed the assertion. "Doug's statement is false," Hart said.

Hampton's wife was employed as treasurer of Ensign's various campaign committees. Hampton said that Ensign paid her a $25,000 severance fee.

Federal election records do not show any such payment from either of Ensign's two major political committees. Some watchdog groups argue that a payment of that size could be construed as an in-kind donation that would exceed federal contribution limits.

During the interview with Nevada political journalist Jon Ralston, Hampton portrayed Ensign as obsessive in pursuit of his wife, and he produced a handwritten February 2008 letter from the senator to her.


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