FILE - In this June 16, 2009 photo, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. speaks at a news conference at the Lloyd D. George Federal building in Las Vegas. Ensign announced he will resign amid an ethics investigation. Ensign said Thursday, April 21, 2011, he will send Vice President Joe Biden a letter Friday making the resignation official. He said he has not violated any laws or rules, but said he could no longer subject his family, friends and constituents to further investigations. The Republican, who is under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee, announced in March that he would not pursue re-election. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken) (AP)

A devastating report on the Ensign affair

The Senate Ethics Committee pulls no punches in its report on the former Republican senator

Justin Elliott
May 13, 2011 12:43AM (UTC)

If you read just one report from the Senate Ethics Committee this year … make it the 75-pager just released on John Ensign, his affair with a campaign staffer married to another Ensign aide, and the subsequent botched coverup.

Ensign resigned from the Senate last month. But the ethics committee is referring its findings to the Justice Department, alleging that Ensign may have committed crimes including obstruction of justice and violation of federal election law.


The referral to the DOJ is the headline here. But the new  report, the product of a 22-month investigation, also includes some remarkable details about just what happened between Ensign and Cynthia Hampton, and the senator's attempt to keep the matter from blowing up -- partly by trying to placate Cynthia's husband, Ensign staffer Doug Hampton.

Doug Hampton was indicted in March for allegedly violating a ban on lobbying Ensign's office following his employment there.

Here's a sample of the findings from the new report.

  • Hampton was worried about losing her job after beginning the affair with Ensign, highlighting the skewed power dynamic in the relationship:

At the time the affair began, Ms. Hampton's sole source of income was her work for the EFS and BattleBorn [Ensign's PAC]. Mr. Hampton's sole source of income was from his work as the Senator's Administrative Assistant. Senator Ensign had the power to fire both Ms. Hampton and Mr. Hampton.

Once the affair began, Ms. Hampton had serious concerns about her job with Senator Ensign's campaign. She stated that "I just didn't want to lose my job. I loved my job. I loved the people I worked with ... I had a lot of fear of losing my job."

  • Ensign had Cynthia Hampton listed in his phone as "Aunt Judy."
  • The senator created email addresses to carry on the affair including,, and
  • There were multiple dramatic confrontations between Ensign and his housemates at C Street, a boarding house for members of Congress run by the evangelical Christian group known as the Fellowship:

Senator Coburn, Mr. Coe, David Coe (Tim Coe's brother and fellow spiritual advisor to the International Foundation), Mr. Hampton, and Marty Sherman decided to confront Senator Ensign about the affair and did so as soon as he returned to Washington, D.C. from the CODEL on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2008. They confronted Senator Ensign at the C Street House. Senator Ensign "started to lie", but he was told that "we know the truth," and then Senator Ensign confessed to the affair. Senator Ensign was told that the affair had to stop. Mr. Hampton was very emotional during the meeting, and at one point got very close to a physical confrontation with Senator Ensign. Senator Coburn asked Mr. Hampton to leave, stating "we'll take it from here. We'll take care of this."

At that confrontation, Senator Ensign agreed to write what appeared to be a sincerely apologetic letter to Ms. Hampton ending the affair. Senator Ensign wrote the letter, and Mr. Sherman mailed it from a Federal Express mailing facility. After it was mailed, Senator Ensign immediately called Ms. Hampton to alert her about the confrontation and to tell her to disregard the letter, which he had written only for the benefit of the men who were confronting him.

  • Ensign told Hampton he wanted to marry her at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, an annual event put on by the Fellowship.

Here is the full report:

Public Report_Preliminary Inquiry Into the Matter of Sen Ensign


Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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