Sen. Ensign’s parents gave $96K to mistress's family

Sen. John Ensign’s (R-Nev.) parents gave the family of the woman with whom he had an affair gifts totaling $96,000 after they learned of their son’s affair, an attorney for the Nevada senator said Thursday.

Ensign’s parents gave a $96,000 check to Doug and Cindy Hampton and two of their children. For tax purposes, the money is divided into $12,000 chunks from each of Ensign’s parents to each of the Hamptons, according to an attorney for the senator.

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“After the senator told his parents about the affair, his parents decided to make the gifts out of concern for the well-being of longtime family friends during a difficult time,” said Ensign attorney Paul Coggins in a statement released Thursday. “The gifts are consistent with a pattern of generosity by the Ensign family to the Hamptons and others.”

Ensign’s parents wrote the check in April 2008, the same month both Hamptons left Ensign’s office. Doug Hampton was Ensign’s chief of staff, while Cindy Hampton was treasurer for both Ensign’s campaign and his political action committee.

Ensign’s parents are independently wealthy. Before retiring, his father, Michael, was chairman and chief executive officer of the company that ran the Mandalay Bay casino.

The amount of each individual gift, $12,000, is the most anyone can give to another person on a yearly basis without triggering a gift tax. Ensign’s parents could, hypothetically, give additional money to the Hampton family this year.

Ensign’s attorney did not return a phone call seeking additional comment on Thursday afternoon.

Coggins said the gifts did not come from campaign or official funds, which would have been a violation of campaign finance and Senate ethics rules.

On Thursday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington called for a criminal investigation into a payment of $25,000 given to Cindy Hampton in severance. If that money came out of Ensign’s own pocket, it would constitute an in-kind contribution to the campaign committee, CREW argues.

None of Ensign’s campaign arms reported such an in-kind contribution. Failure to report contributions would violate campaign finance law.

CREW has previously filed complaints against Ensign with both the Federal Election Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee. The latest complaint, filed with the Justice Department, alleged that giving that much money to a political action committee and failing to report contributions that high amount to a felony offense.

The disclosure of the gifts comes a day after an interview in which Doug Hampton admitted to discussions between his attorney and Ensign’s surrounding restitution he sought in the amount of millions of dollars. The interview, on a Las Vegas politics and public affairs show, has reinvigorated a scandal that Ensign appeared to have successfully put behind him.

Meanwhile, both Ensign and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) have said Hampton was not honest during the interview, with Nevada political expert Jon Ralston. Hampton told Ralston that Coburn was present when Ensign wrote a letter to Cindy Hampton professing to end the affair.

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“In response to [Wednesday’s] television interview, Sen. Ensign said Doug Hampton was consistently inaccurate in his statements,” Ensign spokesman Tory Mazzola said in a statement released Wednesday.

Coburn told reporters Thursday morning he was not present when Ensign wrote the letter, nor did he suggest a financial settlement of any kind with Hampton, a statement at odds with Hampton’s claims. But Coburn has acknowledged he counseled Ensign, with whom he shares a house in Washington, to end the affair.

A Coburn spokesman put out a blistering statement late Wednesday saying had Ensign listened to the Oklahoma Republican, the affair would not be so bad.

On Thursday, Coburn refused to elaborate on Ensign’s predicament.

“There’s nothing I can add to it,” Coburn told The Hill when asked why he would not answer more questions.

Ensign is refusing to describe his relationship with Coburn, though he told the Las Vegas Sun on Thursday his colleague and housemate was correct.

“His statement, as far as my recollection, is accurate,” Ensign told the Sun. “If I had listened to him things would have been a lot better off.”

Part two of Ralston’s interview with Hampton airs Thursday night.


J. Taylor Rushing contributed to this report