ENSIGN ACCUSES HAMPTON OF DEMANDING MONEY

Three days after divulging a nine-month affair with a campaign aide, Sen. John Ensign today accused the aide’s husband of demanding money from the Nevada Republican.

“Within the past month, Doug Hampton’s legal counsel made exorbitant demands for cash and other financial benefits on behalf of his client,” Ensign spokesman Tory Mazzola said in an e-mail statement.

“Doug Hampton’s outrageous demand was referred to Senator Ensign’s legal counsel, who is handling the matter going forward.”

Further details about the circumstances of the alleged demand were not provided, such as the amount of money, if it was to buy the Hamptons’ silence, and whether there were negotiations. Law enforcement agencies have said they are not investigating the allegation, which the Review-Journal reported the day Ensign disclosed the affair but which he did not address until today.

Hampton’s lawyer, Daniel Albregts, would not comment on the allegation.

Apparently frustrated in his dealings with Ensign, Doug Hampton, a former top Ensign staffer himself, went to the media with his claims, contacting the Fox News cable network earlier this week.

Ensign’s decision to admit to the affair in a hurried press conference Tuesday was prompted by the knowledge that Hampton had approached a news network with the information, aides have said.

Fox News acknowledged today that the network was contacted by Doug Hampton before Ensign admitted the affair this week.

A booker for the Fox show “America’s Newsroom” got an e-mail from Hampton on Monday, the show’s senior producer, Tom Lowell, told the Huffington Post online publication today.

Calls to Fox for comment were referred to Lowell’s remarks in the Huffington Post story. Network representatives refused to comment further.

“We followed up with him (Hampton), but he seemed evasive and not credible, thus we didn’t pursue it,” Lowell said. Lowell denied accusations that Fox tipped off Ensign to Hampton’s attempt to expose the senator.

“Definitely no one on our editorial team called anyone in Senator Ensign’s office prior to the announcement,” Lowell said. “We just hadn’t gotten to that point of confirming the story yet. Somehow, somebody told the senator something, and I don’t know how that happened. But I categorically deny that we ever reached out to the senator in any way, shape or form prior to him making his announcement.”

Staffers for the network were considering making further inquiries about Hampton’s allegations, he said, when they were pre-empted by Ensign’s disclosure.

“There were some questions here, so we decided that we would make some inquiries but that it wasn’t something we needed to move on immediately,” Lowell said. “And before we could nail everything down and confirm this story, the senator had already announced his press conference.”

The e-mail Hampton sent to Fox News included a personal letter from Hampton to “America’s Newsroom” co-host Megyn Kelly pleading for her help exposing Ensign’s conduct.

In the letter, published by the Las Vegas Sun on Friday, Hampton claims Ensign was confronted about his “unethical behavior” in February 2008, “at his home in Washington DC with a group of his peers,” including Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. Coburn declined to comment today.

Hampton also says in the letter that the affair prompted the departure of both Doug and Cindy Hampton, who were on the senator’s Senate and campaign payrolls, respectively.

“Senator Ensign’s conduct and relentless pursuit of my wife led to our dismissal in April of 2008,” he wrote in the letter. Nonetheless, Hampton noted, the affair didn’t end until August. Ensign has said the affair lasted from December 2007 to August 2008.

Hampton says in the letter that he has tried to get a lawyer to take his case, but they “are having difficulty finding charges that may hold up in court.”

Las Vegas police and the FBI said this week that they are not looking into whether Hampton, in confronting Ensign with a demand for money, committed extortion.

One legal expert said just because a lawyer might have demanded money doesn’t mean something criminal occurred.

“That sounds like any civil settlement,” Las Vegas defense attorney Robert Langford said of the lawyer’s alleged demands. “That’s what lawyers do. We make demands for exorbitant amounts of money.”

Hampton legally could demand money as part of a settlement agreement if he had a valid civil claim for, say, wrongful termination, Langford said. The demands become extortion if Hampton threatened Ensign with harm if he didn’t comply. He added, though: “One lawyer’s zealous representation is another lawyer or district attorney’s extortion.”

Langford, who has no connection to Ensign’s case, represented a couple accused of extorting Rene Angelil, singer Celine Dion’s husband.

In that case, Korean minister Ae Kwon and his wife Yun Sung tried to extort $20 million from Angelil, authorities said. The couple accused Angelil of raping Sung in a hotel room in 2000. Both were convicted of extortion and sentenced to prison. No charges were filed against Angelil.

Ensign has said that the Hamptons were close family friends before the affair started.

Cindy Hampton, 46, was paid by Ensign’s Senate committee and his political action committee, the Battle Born PAC, in 2007 and early 2008. After the affair commenced, her pay from the two funds doubled, but by May 2008 she was no longer on the payroll.

Doug Hampton, 47, Ensign’s administrative assistant in the Senate office, was paid $245,000 from November 2006 to May 2008. He also received a pay bump in his last month’s salary. Ensign’s camp has attributed that to accrued vacation time. The Hamptons’ 19-year-old son also worked for Ensign in Washington. He was paid $1,000 a month by the National Republican Senatorial Committee for five and a half months in 2008.

Doug Hampton now works for Allegiant Air, a small Las Vegas-based discount airline whose CEO is a major Ensign contributor. Since August 2008, Hampton has been the company’s vice president for government affairs, according to the airline. Since leaving Ensign’s employ, Hampton also has worked for November Inc., a Nevada political consulting firm made up of former Ensign aides. Ensign’s staff has acknowledged the senator helped his former staffer land both jobs.

Ensign, 51, a Christian conservative with a rising national profile before this week’s scandal, has indicated his wife of 21 years is standing by him and that he plans to remain in office.

Since flying home to Nevada to make his admission Tuesday, Ensign has not returned to Washington, where the Senate is in session. On Wednesday, he resigned his leadership position as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, the No. 4 GOP Senate post.

Through their lawyer, Albregts, Doug and Cindy Hampton have indicated that they plan to tell their side of the story in due time.

Review-Journal writer David Kihara and Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault contributed to this report. Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.

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