“Aunt Judy”?: The NYT Looks At The John Ensign Affair

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Can John Ensign survive this story in the New York Times? The headline sticks to the boilerplate: Senator’s Aid After Affair Raises Flags Over Ethics But the article has lots of new, dishy details, including this passage:

At a black-tie Christmas party at the White House in 2006, Mr. Ensign and Ms. Hampton beamed as they posed for a picture with President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura. It was that night that he realized that his feelings toward Ms. Hampton had become romantic, Mr. Ensign later admitted to Mr. Hampton, according to Mr. Hampton.

A year later, during what Mr. Ensign said was a difficult time in his marriage, Mr. Hampton intercepted a text message from his boss to his wife that made plain that their relationship had become intimate.

“It was such a betrayal,” Mr. Hampton said.

There were heated confrontations, tearful admissions, promises to end the affair, even joint family meetings that included the couples’ children. Still, the relationship continued.

During a February 2008 Congressional trip to Iraq, Mr. Ensign called Ms. Hampton almost every morning and night. She said that when the phone bill came to Mr. Ensign’s campaign office, he gave her almost $1,000 in cash to cover it. Mr. Ensign’s office confirmed that the senator gave Ms. Hampton “enough cash to cover the personal charges.” (On the trip, Mr. Hampton said he noticed frequent calls from Mr. Ensign’s cellphone to “Aunt Judy” — at his wife’s number.)

That month, Mr. Hampton decided to take more aggressive steps to end the affair. He and Mr. Ensign shared a strong Christian faith, and often attended prayer meetings at a Capitol Hill house where Mr. Ensign, Mr. Coburn and other lawmakers lived. The house, on C Street, is affiliated with the Fellowship Foundation, a Christian outreach group influential with conservatives in Congress.

Mr. Hampton went to several group leaders. Soon after, on Valentine’s Day, they confronted Mr. Ensign during lunch at the house. Mr. Hampton, agitated and yelling at times, was there, too. Mr. Coburn, an ordained deacon, took the lead in questioning Mr. Ensign, who acknowledged that Mr. Hampton’s accusation was true.

“I said, ‘No. 1, you’re having an affair, and you need to stop,’ ” Mr. Coburn recounted. The senator said he also advised Mr. Ensign to make the affair public and to work to reconcile the two families.

Mr. Coburn warned Mr. Ensign that if the affair did not end, he would “go to Mitch” — referring to Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, Mr. Hampton said.

At the urging of foundation leaders, Mr. Ensign agreed to write a good-bye letter to Cynthia Hampton and send it by overnight mail. “What I did with you was a mistake,” he wrote in longhand. “I was completely self-centered and only thinking of myself. I used you for my own pleasure.”

But immediately after the confrontation, the senator called Ms. Hampton and told her to disregard the letter, Ms. Hampton said. The relationship would continue for six more months.

I’ve asked for one, but thus far, no reaction to the story from Ensign’s office.