The fallout from an extramarital affair between Ensign and Cindy Hampton, a campaign staffer, is threatening to ensnare other Republican leaders as they try to marshal opposition to the Obama administration.
A June 11 letter written by Hampton’s husband, published today in the Las Vegas Sun, claims that at least one of Ensign’s colleagues, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., knew about the affair more than a year before Ensign’s public confession, but did not act to remove him from party leadership.
Though unconfirmed — Coburn’s communications director said Coburn would not comment on the claims made in the letter — the allegation could turn one of Washington’s periodic sex scandals into something of larger significance.
Initially, it seemed as though the splatter would be confined to Ensign’s political ambitions. Then it emerged that Cindy Hampton’s salary — paid from Ensign’s political payroll — had doubled during the time of their affair, which went on from December 2007 to August 2008. Also in that period, Hampton’s son landed a $1,000-a-month internship with the National Republican Senatorial Committee — chaired by Ensign. After Hampton and her husband, Doug (also a top Ensign aide), were dismissed by Ensign, the senator allegedly helped Doug Hampton find a job with a Las Vegas airline that is among his major campaign contributors.
Now the Sun is reporting that, days before Ensign acknowledged his affair with Cindy Hampton, Doug Hampton wrote a letter to Fox News anchorwoman Megyn Kelly, begging her to help expose Ensign’s “unethical behavior” because his fellow lawmakers had not.
For the record, Tom Lowell, senior producer of “America’s Newsroom,” hosted by Kelly and Bill Hemmer, says no one at Fox News got the printed letter:
“We never received any letter from Mr. Hampton…. He might have sent it, but we never received it. He did reach out to us about 24 hours before the news conference, and he sent an e-mail to a booker on my staff.”
Lowell said that a member of his editorial staff followed up with Hampton that day.
“We followed up with him, but he seemed evasive and not credible, thus we didn’t pursue it,” he said. “We certainly weren’t going to rush to air with accusations against a sitting Senator without doing due diligence on the reputability of the claims.
What about the original charge of blackmail by the aggrieved husband? Ensign Lover’s Hubby Wanted Money — But Through His Lawyer:
[A]n Ensign spokesman tells the AP that within the last month Hampton made “exorbitant demands for cash and other financial benefits” through an attorney, and that the matter was referred to Ensign’s lawyer.
In other words, Hampton threatened a lawsuit. Unless you’ve got an amazingly ham-handed lawyer, that’s a far cry from extortion, which can be a felony. Had extortion occurred, Ensign’s lawyer would presumably have had to contact law enforcement, and there’s no evidence that happened.
RELATED: Politico’s Erika Lovley looks at what some other political mistresses are up to now.