- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

Republican Sen. John Ensign’s wealthy parents gave his paramour’s family $96,000 after learning of their son’s affair with a longtime family friend.

The senator from Nevada, who admitted last month to having an affair with a former employee, acknowledged Thursday that his parents gave the woman and her family the money “out of concern” for friends but said it did not come from campaign or official funds.

Paul Coggins, the senator’s attorney, said the payment - Mr. Ensign’s first public acknowledgment that the woman received money tied to the affair - complied with all applicable laws and Senate ethics rules.

But a watchdog group called for investigations into any money given to Cindy Hampton, a former Ensign campaign aide and longtime friend, and her husband, Doug Hampton. The group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), also on Thursday sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asking for a criminal probe of the matter. CREW also asked for a Senate ethics investigation.

Mr. Ensign, who has resigned as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee - considered the fourth-ranking spot in the Senate Republican chain of command -was at work at the Capitol on Thursday and intends to stay in Washington on Friday if votes are called.

“His parents decided to make the gifts out of concern for the well-being of longtime family friends during a difficult time,” Mr. Coggins said. “The gifts are consistent with a pattern of generosity by the Ensign family to the Hamptons and others.”

The senator is the son of a Las Vegas casino mogul.

The Hamptons and Ensigns have been friends for decades, according to the Associated Press. Cindy Hampton and Mr. Ensign’s wife, Darlene, went to high school together. The families live in adjacent gated communities in the Las Vegas suburbs and their children attend the same school.

An Ensign spokesman said the senator disclosed the affair last month at a hastily called news conference in Las Vegas after he learned that Mr. Hampton had spoken with a television station and intended to go public with the tryst.

Mr. Ensign said during the news conference that the affair, which his office said took place from December 2007 to August 2008, was “the worst thing I have ever done in my life.”

Mrs. Hampton had worked on several of Mr. Ensign’s election committees, while her husband was a top assistant in the senator’s office in Washington. Both left Mr. Ensign’s employment in the spring of 2008.

Mr. Ensign, 51, belongs to the men’s Christian ministry Promise Keepers and has championed causes pushed by the Republicans’ conservative religious base.

The senator had risen quickly through the Senate leadership since taking office in 2001 and serves on several powerful committees, including finance, budget and homeland security. His current six-year term expires in January 2013.

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