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Politics Digest

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.

Tory Mazzola, Ensign's spokesman, said that Hampton "was consistently inaccurate in his statements" during the interview.

-- Dan Eggen and Philip Rucker

U.S. SENATE

2010 Illinois Race: Madigan Out, Kirk In

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) took herself out of the running Wednesday for the U.S. Senate seat held by Roland W. Burris (D), while Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R) began telling influential folks in Washington that he will pursue the job.

Kirk has represented Illinois' 10th District, which went for President Obama with 61 percent of the vote last year, since 2000, and he has beaten back several serious challenges. He had been expected to join the race for months, but he backed off when Madigan made it clear she would consider the race.

But Madigan instead said she will run for reelection in 2010. She said that staying in her current job was the best decision for the state and for her family.

-- Chris Cillizza

BLAGOJEVICH PROBE

Former Staff Chief Pleads Guilty

A former chief of staff to Rod Blagojevich (D), the ousted governor of Illinois, pleaded guilty Wednesday to taking part in a scheme to sell or trade President Obama's Senate seat. John Harris vowed to testify at Blagojevich's corruption trial.

Harris, 47, pleaded guilty to a count of wire fraud.

-- Associated Press

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