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In a nutshell, Coburn admitted, as he has before, that he acted as an intermediary between Ensign and Hampton.
Coburn also seemed to be say that Hampton lied by telling Nightline, in an interview to air tonight, there was a negotiation. But Hampton never said that. He only said that Coburn offered to help him negotiate a deal with Ensign. And, crucially, that Coburn suggested having Ensign make a payment to the Hamptons, and help them buy their home.
Coburn never directly says whether those key claims by Hampton are untrue. And Stephanopoulos never pins him down on it. But it seems fair to say that, despite his bluster, Coburn left those claims from Hampton essentially unchallenged.
It's easy to understand why Coburn would seek to obfuscate here. Ensign may have broken the law with his $96,000 payment to the Hamptons, which the senator's camp has called a gift but Hampton insists was severance. No surprise that Coburn isn't eager to be implicated in the episode, and is out to undermine Hampton's credibility.
But Coburn doesn't seem to have much in the way of concrete facts with which to do so.
Judge for yourself. Here's the transcript:
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm going to have to -- I'm going to have to stop this right now. And, Senator, before you go -- and I know this is your least favorite subject -- but Doug Hampton, Senator Ensign's chief of staff, has given an interview to "Nightline" which is going to air tomorrow night, where he says that you were an intermediary between him and Senator Ensign, and I want to show that for a second.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAMPTON: Tom Coburn said, "What I would do, Doug, if I was you is I would have them buy your home, give you $1 million bucks so you could get started over, and that's what I'm willing to help you negotiate."
(UNKNOWN): And what happened?
HAMPTON: John said, "No can do. Not going to happen."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is he telling the truth?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Flat no?
STEPHANOPOULOS: You did not serve as an intermediary?
COBURN: Oh, I did. No, there's no question. Look, my whole goal in this thing was to bring two families to a closure of a very painful episode. And there's no question that Doug called me and said, "Will you talk to John about solving a problem?" And so I called John Ensign and said, "Do you want me to talk to him?" He said, "Yes."
But, you know, the -- the question that's worrisome is, what is the motivation now for -- for this? Doug obviously asked to have some remuneration for the injury that he had. And on private sector, that happens all the time. But there -- there was no negotiation. There was, "I'll pass it along," or, "Yes, I won't."
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, thanks very much.
And here's the video: