By Dan Eggen and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 10, 2009
The wealthy parents of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) gave $96,000 last year to the staffer who was then his mistress and to her family, his attorney said yesterday.
The gifts to Cynthia L. Hampton and her family were given "out of concern for the well-being of longtime family friends during a difficult time," according to the lawyer, Paul Coggins.
The gifts roughly coincided with Hampton's departure as treasurer of Ensign's political committees, as well as with the resignation of her husband, Douglas, as Ensign's chief of staff, on May 1, 2008. Ensign has said that the sexual affair with Cynthia Hampton began in December 2007 and continued until the following August.
The money was disbursed in April 2008, in eight checks of $12,000 each, with two checks each for Cynthia Hampton, her husband and their two children, Coggins said.
He said the gifts complied with tax rules and did not come from official or campaign funds. "Senator Ensign has complied with all applicable laws and Senate ethics rules," he said.
The disclosure comes a day after Douglas Hampton alleged that Ensign gave his wife a $25,000 severance payment. Hampton has portrayed Ensign as obsessive in pursuit of his wife, releasing a letter in which Ensign says he "used" Cynthia Hampton for "my own pleasure."
Since Ensign admitted the extramarital affair several weeks ago, he and his defenders have accused the Hamptons of making exorbitant financial demands but denied that Ensign provided any severance payments or other financial assistance for the couple. Ensign has said he has no plans to resign his office.
In an interview this week, Douglas Hampton also alleged that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a close friend of Ensign's, urged Ensign to end the affair early last year and suggested financial compensation for the Hampton family.
Coburn's office acknowledged that he counseled Ensign to end the affair but denied suggesting any financial deal.
Yesterday, Coburn told the Roll Call newspaper that he would refuse any attempts to compel him to testify in court or at the Senate ethics committee about his role. Coburn, an obstetrician, claimed a legal privilege against such testimony as his physician and religious adviser.
"I was counseling him as a physician and as an ordained deacon," Coburn said. "That is privileged communication that I will never reveal to anybody. Not to the ethics committee, not to a court of law, not to anybody."
But Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor who is now executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said that neither privilege would apply to Coburn's case because Ensign cannot plausibly be his patient and because being a deacon does not qualify a person as clergy.
Sloan, whose group has filed an ethics complaint against Ensign, also questioned whether the $96,000 in payments to the Hampton family might be viewed as a way around campaign rules that require reporting severance packages for employees such as Cynthia Hampton.
Ensign's father, Michael, is a former casino executive who earned more than $130 million in stock sales and stock options while engineering the sale of the Mandalay Resort Group, which he headed, to MGM Mirage. Michael Ensign has more recently sought to get back into the gambling business by teaming up with a development company in Topeka, Kan., to bid on operating a casino in south-central Kansas, according to news reports.
Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.