U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., on Thursday announced the departure of his chief of staff and communications director and their replacements, marking a major turnover in the scandal-plagued office.
Chief of Staff John Lopez is to be replaced by Aaron Cohen, a lobbyist and former Ensign staffer. Tory Mazzola, Ensign’s communications director, also is leaving and will be replaced by Rebecca Fisher, the office announced in a news release.
Lopez will stay on until the end of August “as he weighs options in the private sector,” the release states. An Ensign aide since Ensign’s political career began in 1994, the Reno native does not yet have a new job lined up.
Cohen, currently vice president for government and political affairs at the Washington lobbying firm Kimbell and Associates, worked for Ensign from 2001 to 2005, serving as chief health care policy adviser.
Mazzola is taking a job as northeast region press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Fisher, his replacement, worked for Ensign at the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican Policy Committee.
Mazzola, 29, worked on Ensign’s 2006 re-election campaign and joined the Senate office when it was over. He said Thursday that his departure had nothing to do with the senator’s recent troubles, but rather was motivated by a desire to return to his native New England as he and his wife expect their first child.
Another addition to the office announced Thursday is Pam Thiessen, who will be returning as senior policy adviser. She left as Ensign’s legislative director in January to work for the policy committee.
Ensign, 51, has been in damage control mode since admitting last month that he had an affair with a former campaign staffer. Cindy Hampton, 46, was a bookkeeper for Ensign’s campaign and political action committees, while her husband, Doug, 47, was a top staffer in the senator’s office.
Both left Ensign’s employ by May 2008, though Ensign has said the affair, which began in December 2007, continued until August 2008.
Doug Hampton has accused Ensign of dismissing the pair because of the extramarital relationship.
Ensign has declined to answer questions about the affair and its complications, including $96,000 the senator’s parents gave the Hampton family around the time Doug and Cindy Hampton left Ensign’s payroll.
Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault contributed to this report. Contact reporter Molly Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919.