Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) married a longtime aide on Saturday, one year after his office swatted down rumors of a romance amid criticism of their shared taxpayer-funded travel.

Cochran, 77, married Kay Webber, 76, an executive assistant who first joined his office in 1981, in a private family ceremony in Gulfport, Miss., his office said in a one-sentence statement Monday.

Their relationship sparked a key dispute during his reelection campaign last year, as supporters of his challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, pointed out that Webber had traveled with Cochran on dozens of Senate trips overseas.

Over the past 12 years, records showed that Webber had joined Cochran on more than 30 publicly funded international trips costing more than $150,000, the Clarion-Ledger reported in 2014.

Critics also pointed to records that showed the six-term senator rented the basement apartment of Webber’s $1.6 million Washington rowhouse as proof of an untoward relationship.

Cochran’s Senate and campaign staff defended Webber’s involvement in the travel and apartment as “strictly professional” and “perfectly appropriate” for a senior staff member.

Webber, who makes about $140,000 a year, was said to attend official meetings and social functions, help the senator maintain his travel schedule and organize constituent events, his office said.

Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell told the Clarion-Ledger a year ago that Webber “is a member of the staff and a trusted aide, and any other suggestion is silly gossip.”

Rumors of the couple’s marriage had begun to swirl earlier this month, the Mississippi newspaper reported Monday, though Cochran staffers denied knowing of any wedding as recently as last week.

Cochran’s wife, Rose, died in December at age 73, after 50 years of marriage and 13 years in a Mississippi nursing home. She had dementia.

A political blogger who sneaked into the facility last year used photos of the bedridden woman taken without her permission to allege that the senator and Webber were having an affair. Cochran’s aides again said there was nothing inappropriate about the relationship.

The blogger, Clayton Kelly, and three others were arrested on felony charges in connection with the photos. The case is ongoing.