Sen. Ensign's Affair

Monday, July 13, 2009

THE DAMNING details of Sen. John Ensign's adulterous relationship with a former campaign worker continue to trickle out. Last week the Nevada Republican acknowledged that his parents paid his mistress and her family nearly $100,000. The payments were characterized as gifts, but there have been so many conflicting stories about alleged payments of money that there is the need for a thorough investigation.

An attorney for Mr. Ensign released a statement detailing the payment of $96,000 in April 2008 to his ex-mistress, Cynthia L. Hampton, her husband and two of their children. The statement said that the payments, made after Mr. Ensign told his parents about the affair, was made "out of concern for the well-being of longtime family friends during a difficult time." It maintained that none of the money came from campaign or official funds and that Mr. Ensign has been careful to comply with all applicable laws and Senate ethics rules.

We're happy to hear Mr. Ensign's declaration of innocence, but we'd be more reassured to hear a similar judgment from the Senate Ethics Committee, the Federal Election Commission or the Justice Department. Douglas Hampton, the husband of the woman in question, has said Mr. Ensign provided severance payments to his wife, who had worked as the senator's campaign treasurer. He placed the amount at more than $26,000. The exact nature of the gift is important because, as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) outlined in a series of complaints calling for investigations, if a severance payment was made out of pocket, it could constitute an in-kind campaign contribution that would need to be reported.

There are other issues, such as whether Mr. Ensign's conduct constituted sexual harassment, considering he had an affair with a subordinate whom he later dismissed along with her husband, also an Ensign aide. Questions also have been raised about the hiring of the couple's son by the National Republican Senatorial Committee when Mr. Ensign was chairman.

Mr. Ensign should realize that no one is being served by the lingering and troubling questions surrounding his sordid affair. He should welcome any inquiry that will help put them to rest.

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