Ensign Called Parents’ Payment To Lover ‘Severance’ Until Lawyer Told Him Not To

If you asked former Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) about that $96,000 his parents gave to his mistress and her husband, he would say it wasn’t a form of severance, it was simply a generous gift. But that wasn’t what he called it originally.

The Senate Ethics Committee’s report on Ensign’s ethics violations reveals that Ensign himself called the $96,000 payout a “severance” in a draft version of his 2009 statement on his affair until his lawyer told him that wasn’t such a good idea.“If this statement doesn’t get the attention of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, then nothing will,” Ensign lawyer Chris Gober wrote of a draft copy of Ensign’s statement in a June 16, 2009 email sent to a Gmail address shared by Ensign’s then communications director Rebecca Fisher and her husband.

Though Gober’s email was sent to an Ensign staffer and not the senator, the Ensign camp claimed the communication was protected by attorney-client privilege up until February 2011, months into the Senate ethics investigation.

Ensign’s initial draft statement was prepared on an airplane from Washington, D.C., to Las Vegas on June 16, 2009. He tried to email a draft, but technical issues prevented it from going through to his communications director Tony Mazzola, who later rewrote the statement. But a copy of the statement written by Ensign at 7:57 a.m. was later recovered.

In the draft, Ensign wrote that he paid severance to Doug and Cynthia Hampton following the affair and the unsustainable work atmosphere that had developed. He told Mazzola to only use Gmail to discuss the statement so it would not be transmitted through Senate servers. Wrote Ensign:

Because of the affair, an unsustainable work atmosphere had developed and it became apparent they could no longer work for me. To help them transition to new work, we gave them what was the equivalent of 6 months severance pay and 1 year of health insurance expense personally, not out of campaign or official accounts.

In Gober’s email to Fisher, sent about an hour before Ensign’s press conference, Gober wrote that the statement “raises a host of potential criminal issues for the Senator.” Wrote Gober:

The language draws a direct connection between the affair, the termination of the staffers, and the severance payment. Although the statement attempts to legitimize the reason for the payment, it’s awfully odd that he made the payments from personal funds.

The revelation shines a poor light on the Federal Election Commission, which closed the case last year against the recommendation of its general counsel.