Report: Ensign chief of staff to leave

Sen. John Ensign's (Nev.) top aide will depart the embattled Republican's office in the wake of an affair that likely ended Ensign's presidential hopes.

John Lopez, the highly regarded chief of staff, is leaving Ensign's office, according to Nevada political columnist Jon Ralston.

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Lopez first took over the top slot in Ensign's office in 2006, and he's worked for Ensign since the mid-1990s, when Ensign was in the House. He became chief of staff when his predecessor, Scott Bensing, left the office to head the National Republican Senatorial Committee during Ensign's tenure atop the GOP's campaign arm.

As chief of staff, Lopez served alongside administrative assistant Doug Hampton, the husband of the woman with whom Ensign had an affair he admitted to last month.

Ensign's office has yet to confirm Lopez's departure.

"When we have information to announce regarding personnel, we will announce it," spokesman Tory Mazzola wrote in an email.

It would be the latest setback for the two-term Nevada Republican, who has been beset by political troubles since he admitted to the affair.

Though he won praise for handling the early fallout from the scandal as allies whispered about extortion schemes, Ensign has come under renewed scrutiny after it was revealed his parents had written checks to the woman, her husband and two of their children for what they said was an effort to aid family friends in a time of need.

But the check — $96,000, or $12,000 each for all four family members from both Ensign's mother and father — raised new questions about whether Ensign had come completely clean about his involvement with the woman, Cynthia Hampton, also an aide in his office.

An interview with Doug Hampton on Ralston's Las Vegas public affairs show raised questions as well, as Hampton suggested a timeline for the affair that differed from the one to which Ensign admitted. Hampton produced a handwritten letter Ensign wrote to Cynthia in February, six months before Ensign had said the affair ended; though Ensign wrote the two needed to stop the affair, Hampton alleged the senator continued pursuing Cynthia Hampton just a day later.

Interviews with members and residents of the so-called C Street House, where Ensign lives with fellow evangelical Christians, have dripped out as well. Ex-Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.) has said he confronted Ensign about the affair, while Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) was reportedly present during many key moments, including an intervention in which several men warned Ensign to end the liaisons.

This story was updated at 11:00 a.m.

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