John Ensign scandal

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The John Ensign scandal constituted the 2009 revelations about an extramarital affair between United States Senator John Ensign and Cynthia Hampton from 2007 to 2008, and Ensign's subsequent attempts to keep the affair secret. The scandal led to Ensign's eventual resignation from the Senate in 2011.


Cynthia Hampton was the wife of Douglas Hampton, a top administrative aide in John Ensign’s Capitol Hill office at the time of the affair, and herself worked for Ensign for Senate and Battle Born PAC (a conservative political action committee of which Ensign was the honorary chairman).[1][2][3] Ensign and his wife had been close friends with the Hamptons before they were hired to work for Ensign. When the affair came to light in 2009, an Ensign spokesperson asserted that it had occurred between December 2007 and August 2008,[1] but Doug Hampton said that it began at Christmas 2006.[4]

Lobbying position for Douglas Hampton[edit]

In early 2008, Douglas Hampton confronted Ensign regarding the affair. Ensign then contacted political and corporate supporters in Nevada, seeking work for Hampton. Within the next few months, Ensign arranged for Hampton to join a political consulting firm in Nevada and lined up several corporations who had been Ensign campaign donors as lobbying clients for Hampton. Senior aides, such as Hampton, are prohibited from lobbying the Senate for a year after leaving their posts. Hampton said he and Ensign were aware of the lobbying restriction but chose to ignore it.[5]

In 2008, after Hampton began working for the political consulting firm, Ensign and his staff repeatedly contacted federal agencies, often after requests from Hampton, on behalf of the companies that were Hampton's clients. In a statement published on October 1, the date that The New York Times reported on Ensign's arrangements for Douglas Hampton, Ensign said: "I am confident we fully complied with the relevant laws and rules governing current and past employees. I have worked on these Nevada issues with these Nevada companies for years, long before Doug Hampton left my office."[5]

Financial settlement[edit]

In April 2008, Ensign's parents gave Cynthia Hampton and her family $96,000.[6] On July 9, 2009, when the payments were reported in the news, Ensign's lawyer, Paul Coggins, issued a statement on Ensign's behalf stating "The payments were made as gifts, accepted as gifts and complied with tax rules governing gifts."[7] In late 2009, Hampton told Nightline the opposite, saying it was "crystal clear" that the $96,000 was, in fact, severance and not a gift.[4]

Public scandal[edit]

On June 11, 2009, Douglas Hampton sent a letter to Megyn Kelly, a Fox News reporter,[8] in which he said that "The actions of Senator Ensign have ruined our lives and careers and left my family in shambles", and that "I need justice, help and restitution for what Senator Ensign has done to me and my family".[9] The network said it did not receive a mailed letter, but got the letter as an e-mail attachment on June 15.[10]

In a statement on June 16, 2009, Ensign admitted that he had the affair. Also on June 16, Ensign's wife issued a statement that said, in part, "Since we found out last year we have worked through the situation and we have come to a reconciliation."[3] On June 17, 2009, Ensign stepped down from his post as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, the fourth-ranking spot in the Republican Party's leadership.[11]

On June 19, the date that Douglas Hampton's June 11 letter to Fox News became public news, Ensign's office issued a statement that included the charge that "within the past month, Doug Hampton's legal counsel made exorbitant demands for cash and other financial benefits on behalf of his client." The Hamptons' attorney said that the couple was weighing how to respond to the Ensign statement.[10]

Sen. Coburn intervenes[edit]

On July 8, the Las Vegas Sun reported that Douglas Hampton had spoken publicly for the first time about the affair, saying Ensign continued his affair with Cynthia Hampton even after intermediaries, including Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, tried to convince him to stop the affair and help the Hamptons pay off their home and move to Colorado.[12]

According to Douglas Hampton, Coburn brokered a meeting in which "Senator Coburn said, 'What I would do, Doug, if I was you, is I would have them buy your home, give you a million bucks so you can start over, and that is what I am willing to help you negotiate,'" he said. "John said, 'No can do, not going to happen.' [Coburn] volunteered to help. He called me. And he recommended a significant number as one that he would float to the Ensigns."[13]


According to Politico, Ensign became increasingly isolated after he admitted having an affair, with even fellow Republican Senators unwilling to be seen working with him.[14]

In September 2010, the Hamptons' home was scheduled for public auction. Douglas Hampton stated that he had been unable to find work since making Ensign's affair known to the public.[15]

In March 2011, Ensign said he would not seek reelection in 2012. He said his decision not to seek reelection was not influenced by the Senate Ethics Committee investigation. "If I was concerned about that, I would resign," he said.[16] In April 2011, three weeks before the committee delivered its findings, Ensign announced that he would resign his seat effective as of May 3, 2011.[17]

In May 2012, Doug Hampton reached a plea deal with prosecutors, the details of which have not yet been released.[18]


In January 2010, Politico reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating possible criminal violations in connection with the affair.[19]

It was reported in July 2010 that Senator Tom Coburn had assisted federal authorities in their investigation by turning over e-mails, seen as a sign that the official investigation is gathering steam.[20]

On November 10, 2010, the Federal Election Commission dismissed a complaint against Ensign over the $96,000 payment Ensign's parents made. In December 2010, the Department of Justice dropped its investigation.[21]


The progressive watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) also has asked the Senate to investigate Hampton's additional charge that Ensign sexually harassed his wife, which his wife has declined to deny.[22]

Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, told ABC that if true, the $96,000 unreported severance payoff for Douglas Hampton, Ensign's actions in aiding and abetting Hampton's violation of the one-year lobbying prohibition for ex-Senate staffers, or Ensign sexually harassing Cindy Hampton, would amount to felonies.[13] The Senate ethics committee and the Department of Justice are investigating the lobbying charges and subpoenas have been issued.[23]

Senate Ethics Committee investigation[edit]

In May 2010, investigators for the United States Senate Select Committee on Ethics spent several days in Las Vegas interviewing witnesses who had knowledge of Ensign's dealings with the Hamptons.[24]

In February 2011, it was reported that the Senate ethics committee appointed a special counsel to lead the investigation and just hours later Ensign said that his re-election campaign was increasing its fundraising efforts. According to Politico, senior Nevada Republicans and Republican Senate colleagues privately expressed concern that Ensign could cause them to lose his Senate seat.[25] Senator Coburn was interviewed by the Ethics Committee in early March 2011.[26]

The Senate Ethics Committee, after investigating for twenty two months, concluded that "substantial and credible evidence"[27] that Ensign broke federal laws in his effort to cover up the extramarital affair and referred the case to the Department of Justice and Federal Election Commission for further investigation.[27]

Sen. Barbara Boxer, the chairwoman of the Senate Ethics Committee, told the Senate on May 12, upon release of her committee's report that the committee's evidence was “substantial enough to warrant the consideration of expulsion” had Ensign not resigned in early May.[28] The Reuters news service reported that based on the new information contained in the Senate Ethics Investigation, the Justice Department would reopen its investigation of Ensign.[28]


  1. ^ a b Freking, Kevin (June 17, 2009). "Sen. Ensign admits affair with ex-campaign staffer". The Guardian (London). Retrieved November 26, 2009. 
  2. ^ J. Patrick Coolican and Lisa Mascaro (June 17, 2009). "Ensign’s mistress saw salary double, son was paid $5,400". Las Vegas Sun. 
  3. ^ a b Herszenhorn, David M., "Senator Ensign Admits Extramarital Affair", The New York Times Caucus blog, June 16, 2009, 6:24 pm EDT. Retrieved 6/16/09.
  4. ^ a b "Exclusive: Doug Hampton Speaks Out on Sen. Ensign's Affair With His Wife". ABC News. November 23, 2009. Retrieved November 24, 2009. 
  5. ^ a b Eric Lichtblau and Eric Lipton (October 2, 2009). "Senator’s Aid to Mistress’s Husband Raises Ethics Flags". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ Chris Cillizza (July 9, 2009). "Ensign Acknowledges Mistress Payment". Washington Post. 
  7. ^ "Statement: Ensign's parents give mistress' family $96K". CNN. July 9, 2009. Retrieved July 9, 2009. 
  8. ^ Jeff German and Lisa Mascaro (June 19, 2009). "Spouse in Ensign affair sought help in letter to Fox News; Husband’s account of how wife’s affair with Ensign ‘ruined our lives and careers’ comes to light". Las Vegas Sun. 
  9. ^ "Text of Doug Hampton’s letter to Fox News". Las Vegas Sun. June 19, 2009. 
  10. ^ a b Paul Kane and Howard Kurtz (June 20, 2009). "Husband of Ex-Mistress Sought Cash, Ensign Says". Washington Post. 
  11. ^ Jonathan Karl (17 June 2009). "Ensign Resigns From GOP Leadership Post". ABC News. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  12. ^ J. Patrick Coolican (July 8, 2009). "Hampton speaks publicly, says Ensign paid severance". Las Vegas Sun. 
  13. ^ a b McFadden, Cynthia, Arons, Melinda & Sher, Lauren (November 23, 2009)."Exclusive: Doug Hampton Speaks Out on Sen. Ensign's Affair With His Wife.". ABC Nightline. Retrieved on December 5, 2009.
  14. ^ Manu Raju (March 15, 2010). "John Ensign isolated by scandal". Politico. 
  15. ^ Ralston, Jon (September 22, 2010). "Family devastated by Ensign scandal – mistress and cuckolded husband – in default on home". Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved September 22, 2010 
  16. ^ Memoli, Michael A., Lisa Mascaro, and Ashley Powers. "Nevada GOP Sen. John Ensign won't seek reelection", Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2011, 1:15 pm. Retrieved 2011-03-08.
  17. ^ "Sen. Ensign says he will resign on May 3". CNN International. April 21, 2011. Retrieved April 21, 2011. 
  18. ^, May 15, 2012, Doug Hampton reaches plea deal in illegal lobbying charges" by Steve Tetreault [1]
  19. ^ Raju, Manu; John Bresnahan (January 19, 2010). "FBI gets involved in John Ensign affair". The Politico. Retrieved January 20, 2010. 
  20. ^ Raju, Manu; John Bresnahan (July 23, 2010). "Tom Coburn gives feds e-mails on John Ensign". The Politico. Retrieved July 24, 2010. 
  21. ^ Fahrenthold, David A., "Justice Department stops investigating John Ensign, Washington Post, December 1, 2010 11:41 pm ET. Retrieved 2011-03-08.
  22. ^ STEVE TETREAULT (June 25, 2009). "Ethics panel gets complaints on Ensign". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved December 6, 2009. 
  23. ^ Lipton, Eric (December 4, 2009). "Ethics Committee Issues Subpoenas in Ensign Inquiry." New York Times. Retrieved on December 5, 2009.
  24. ^ Knapp, George; Matt Adams (May 6, 2010). "I-Team: Committee Interviewing Las Vegas Witnesses in Ensign Probe". KLAS-TV. Retrieved May 9, 2010. 
  25. ^ Raju, Manu; John Bresnahan (February 1, 2011). "John Ensign running, despite ethics investigation". The Politico. Retrieved February 8, 2011. 
  26. ^ Raju, Manu; John Bresnahan (February 1, 2011). "Senate ramps up Ensign probe". The Politico. Retrieved March 3, 2011. 
  27. ^ a b Paul Kane; Carol D. Leaning (May 12, 2011). "Senate ethics committee: Ensign violated federal laws". Washington Post. Retrieved May 13, 2011. 
  28. ^ a b Murray Waas "Disgraced John Ensign Back in Legal Jeopardy" Reuters, May 26, 2011.