Midway through a nine-month extramarital affair with a member of his campaign staff, Sen. John Ensign wrote his lover a letter saying they had committed a “sin” and “God never intended for us to do this.”
“I used you for my own pleasure. … I betrayed everything I believe in,” Ensign wrote.
The letter from Ensign, R-Nev., to Cindy Hampton is dated February 2008. Ensign has said the affair lasted from December 2007 to August 2008.
Despite the letter’s contrite language, Ensign immediately sought to continue the relationship with Cindy Hampton, her husband, Doug Hampton, told local journalist Jon Ralston in an interview that aired in part on Wednesday.
Doug Hampton claims in the interview that Ensign paid “well over $25,000” in severance to Cindy Hampton when she left Ensign’s employ in May 2008, according to Ralston, the host of “Face to Face” on Las Vegas ONE and a columnist for the Las Vegas Sun.
Doug Hampton, who had sought to expose Ensign to Fox News before Ensign’s admission of the affair last month, believes Ensign showed poor judgment in pursuing the affair and in its aftermath and should now resign.
Hampton, who declined to talk to the Review-Journal outside his home Wednesday, provided the Ensign letter to Ralston.
Doug Hampton, 47, was a top staffer in Ensign’s U.S. Senate office until May 2008. He claims both he and Cindy, 46, lost their jobs with the senator because of the affair.
Ensign, 51, admitted the affair in a Las Vegas news conference on June 16, apologizing to those affected and taking no questions. He has since gone back to work in Washington.
Ensign’s staff declined to answer questions Wednesday about Hampton’s accusations, though in the evening spokesman Tory Mazzola issued a statement: “In response to today’s television interview, Senator Ensign said Doug Hampton was consistently inaccurate in his statements.”
In the letter, Ensign wrote that he had ignored the effect his actions would have on Doug Hampton, a longtime close friend, and the Hamptons’ three children, who attended the same Summerlin private school as the Ensign children.
“I lied to myself over and over,” Ensign wrote. “I justified my actions because I blamed my wife. Doug has been a great friend to me over the years + I threw all of that away over wanting to feel good.”
Ensign, a born-again Christian, laments the affair as a violation of God’s will. “I walked away from Him + my relationship with Him has suffered terribly,” he wrote.
Doug Hampton says in the interview, however, that Ensign wrote the letter only after being confronted by representatives of the church foundation that owns the Washington house Ensign shares with other Christian lawmakers.
The group of men, including Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., urged Ensign to give the Hamptons “millions” in financial assistance and write a remorseful letter in order to end the relationship, Hampton said.
Though Ensign wrote the letter and sent it to Cindy Hampton, that same weekend the senator told Doug Hampton, “I’m in love with your wife,” Hampton says.
The Hamptons had been living at the Ensigns’ home, not far from theirs in Summerlin, when the affair began in December 2007, Hampton says. They needed a place to stay after their own house was broken into.
Doug Hampton found out about the affair from a text message he discovered. “It just dealt with the fact that they had kind of enjoyed being together,” is how Hampton described the message.
The two families, including their children, had it out on Christmas Eve, Hampton says. “John (Ensign) broke down, and Cindy was beside herself,” Hampton says.
But after that, Ensign, he says, continued to call and text Cindy.
When Ensign’s pursuit continued, Hampton brought the churchmen into the picture, and they confronted him in mid-February.
Ensign wrote the letter, but immediately called Cindy and told her to ignore it, Doug Hampton says.
A spokesman for Coburn, Ensign’s housemate and fellow senator, confirmed Wednesday that Coburn confronted Ensign about the matter.
“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,” John Hart said in an e-mail statement. Coburn is a medical doctor. “Had Senator Ensign followed Dr. Coburn’s advice, this episode would have ended, and been made public, long ago.”
Since announcing the affair last month, Ensign and his staff have cited Hampton’s approach of Fox News and his requests for cash as the senator’s reason for making it public.
Hampton, through a lawyer, asked for millions in what he considered restitution for the family’s suffering, he acknowledges in Wednesday’s interview.
An Ensign spokesman previously called the request an “outrageous demand” and said it was referred to the senator’s lawyer.
But Hampton says he got the idea for a financial settlement from the churchmen and Coburn.
“These men were the ones that said, ‘What we need to do is we need to get Doug Hampton’s home paid for and we need to get Doug Hampton some money, and we need to get his family to Colorado,’ " Hampston said.
When the intervention didn’t work, the Hamptons were pushed out of their jobs, he says.
“His personal pursuit of Cindy spilled over into, ‘Hey, I’m really sorry, but you guys have to leave the organization. This isn’t working,’ ” Hampton said in the interview. “The creation of the consulting (job), November Inc., all of those tentacles were birthed because John needed things to go down like this. He was still in pursuit of Cindy. He needed me out of the organization and Cindy ultimately was asked to leave basically by the family.”
Hampton says Ensign’s wife, Darlene, called the senator’s chief political consultant, Mike Slanker, and had him arrange for a consulting position with his firm, November Inc., to get Hampton “back here to the state (Nevada) and out of my (Ensign’s) official office.”
Slanker did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
The friendship between the Ensigns and Hamptons goes back to the two wives’ high school days in California.
Doug Hampton says in Wednesday’s interview that the Ensigns were “like family.”
“This put us in an unbelievable position,” Hampton says in the interview. “Our families, our lives, were so intertwined. Our kids go to school together. Cindy is his (campaign) treasurer; I am a top official.”
Cindy Hampton handled the books for Ensign’s Battle Born Political Action Committee and his Senate campaign fund until May 2008. During the time Ensign says the affair occurred, her salary doubled, which Ensign aides explained by saying her responsibilities increased.
Hampton says he does not blame his wife for the affair.
“I believe that Cindy wanted to get away, and that had John not been the pursuer in all of this, it never would have happened,” he says. “This wouldn’t have taken place this way. … Cindy really wanted to pursue the right thing. John, given the opportunity, chose John, chose what was best for John, and kind of ramrodded and ran through people including those very close to him when he was confronted with this. He wanted a relationship with Cindy.”
Hampton disputes Ensign’s claim that the affair lasted until August, saying, “Cindy came very clean with a lot of things in March and asked for my help.”
In the letter Hampton wrote to Fox News last month, he wrote that Ensign’s “heinous conduct and pursuit … did not subside until August of 2008.”
Ensign should resign, Hampton says, “because I don’t think his decision-making in the last couple of years is that of a United States senator. Listen, we all make mistakes, we’re all people. I am not in any way, shape or form standing on a soapbox with that issue. But in this time period, what took place with two employees, how he handled Cindy, how he handled Doug, how he handled the staff, how he handled the NRSC (National Republican Senatorial Committee, which Ensign then chaired), how he led that story-making and all of that cover-up that took place is not the behavior and conduct of a United States senator.”
The second half of the interview is scheduled to air today on “Face to Face,” which is shown on Cox Cable Channel 19 at 5:30 p.m.
The question of whether Ensign paid Cindy Hampton money that was not properly reported to authorities was one of the key underpinnings of ethics complaints filed against the senator after he confessed to their extramarital affair last month.
Doug Hampton is saying Ensign paid his wife more than $25,000 in severance when she stopped working as treasurer of his political action committee and his re-election fund.
No such payments were reported to the Federal Election Committee as required by federal law. The amount of $25,000 is important because, if it is true, that is the threshold that could trigger a possible felony charge against Ensign.
If Ensign were convicted of a knowing and willful failure to report payments of that size, he could be subject to a fine and five years in prison.
“This may be the most serious thing he faces in the matter. This is the only place he may face a criminal charge,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The group filed complaints against Ensign with the FEC and the Senate Ethics Committee on June 24.
The New York Times has reported Ensign paid Cindy Hampton out of his own pocket. Ensign has not addressed the circumstances surrounding her departure from his campaign payroll.
Sloan and other attorneys said Ensign might be expected to argue that if any money was paid to Cindy Hampton, it was not for severance, but rather as a gift or for some other reason. In that way, it might not be subject to the campaign finance law.
But such a claim would certainly be scrutinized, given the circumstances of Hampton’s departure from Ensign’s employment.
Cleta Mitchell, an attorney with Foley & Lardner LLP who advises clients on campaign finance and election law, said such a claim could open up Ensign and Cindy Hampton to questioning on other fronts.
“Every time there is a payment of some kind, it has to be categorized as something,” Mitchell said. “If it was a gift, well, OK, did he pay gift taxes on it? Did she? It has to be something.”
Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault and Review-Journal writer Carri Geer Thevenot contributed to this report.