They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

Doug Hampton Breaks Silence On Wife's Affair With Ensign

- Hampton said that Ensign paid Cindy more than $25,000 in severance when she stopped working for his campaign committees -- a possible felony violation of campaign-finance law if he didn't report it as an in-kind contribution. (Campaign reports show no such payment.)

- Hampton said Ensign continued the affair for months after Hampton found out about it, and even well after the Ensigns and the Hamptons had confronted the issue together!

- Hampton also said that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) urged Ensign to end the liaison and to sweep it under the rug, suggesting that Ensign pay the Hamptons millions and help them resettle in Colorado.

- Hampton released a letter written by Ensign to Cindy Hampton, in which he expresses deep remorse for the affair -- which continued for around six months after the letter was written! (It reads like the words of a six-year-old who has been ordered by a parent to apologize, but has no independent grasp of what he did wrong.)

The whole report from the Sun makes good reading, so we'll quote at length. On the severance payment:

Hampton said Ensign paid the woman $25,000 in severance when she stopped working for the senator.

If true, Ensign faces a possible felony violation of campaign finance law if he paid the severance but failed to report it as an in-kind contribution to the campaign committees where she worked, according to ethics complaints filed against him.

Knowingly and willfully failing to report a contribution of more than $25,000 is a criminal violation subject to five years in prison, according to complaints filed last month by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Campaign reports show no such in-kind payment from Ensign to either his personal campaign committee or his Battle Born leadership Political Action Committee, according CREW, which filed complaints June 24 with the Federal Elections Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee.

On how the affair got started, and Ensign's inability to break it off:

Hampton said the affair began while his family was staying at the Ensign home. Hampton said his family's house was broken into just before Christmas 2007, at which time the Ensigns invited the Hamptons to stay with them in a nearby Summerlin neighborhood.

The families each have three children and their friendship goes back decades.

Hampton discovered the affair when he saw an incriminating text message, he said.

The families confronted the issue in full on Christmas Eve.

Still, Hampton said, Ensign continued to pursue Cynthia Hampton with text messages and phone calls.

Hampton seemed to suggest his wife Cynthia was powerless to prevent the continuing affair.

On Coburn's role, and that of C Street, the Christian fellowship on Capitol Hill that we've written about before:

Hampton and Ensign were bonded by their conservative evangelical faith. Hampton said he reached out to intermediaries involved in a Christian fellowship home in Washington, D.C., where Ensign and several other powerful Washington figures live.

The group, including Coburn, a well-known conservative, confronted Ensign and suggested that the Hamptons needed to be given financial assistance -- in the millions of dollars -- to pay off their $1 million-plus mortgage and move them to a new life away from Ensign.

On the letter from Ensign to Cindy Hampton:

During the confrontation, Ensign agreed to write a letter to Cynthia Hampton expressing remorse, Hampton said.

The letter, which was authenticated by Ralston's executive producer Dana Gentry, is filled with contrition: "I was completely self-centered and only thinking of myself. I used you for my own pleasure not letting thoughts of you, Doug, Brandon, Blake or Brittany come into my mind," he wrote, referring to the Hampton children.

But after sending the letter, which bears the date "Feb. 2008," Hampton said Ensign quickly disavowed it in a conversation with Cynthia Hampton and continued to pursue her.

Hampton said that on that same February weekend, Ensign told him, "I'm in love with your wife."

And some more, because why not?

Some time later, according to Hampton, Ensign's wife Darlene Ensign reached out to top Ensign political aide Mike Slanker, asking him to set up Hampton with political and lobbying work.

Hampton said he tried but failed to extricate himself from the situation.

"John is so focused, hyper-focused on what he wants....that he's not seeing the collateral damage that's going on in people's lives," he said.

The interview, teased by the Sun, was a two-part sit-down with Ralston, to air tonight and tomorrow on Face to Face with Jon Ralston.

Late Update: Coburn's office tells Politico in a statement:

Dr. Coburn did everything he could to encourage Senator Ensign to end his affair and to persuade Senator Ensign to repair the damage he had caused to his own marriage and the Hampton's marriage. Had Senator Ensign followed Dr. Coburn's advice, this episode would have ended, and been made public, long ago.

The claim that the affair would have "been made public" seems to conflict with Hampton's description of Coburn's role. A Coburn spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Also, the Sun has posted a slideshow of shots of Hampton giving the interview, and a blog post called "Wooing Hampton," about the paper's efforts to get him to agree to the sit-down.