The Tangled Web That John Ensign Weaves

It's sex scandal Friday! We're taking a break from health care to discuss the increasingly dismal situation facing John Ensign, who clearly did not pay attention to the adage "It's cheaper to keep [him]." Ethics violations and adultery, ahoy!

When we last left John Ensign:

Unlike most philandering politicians, Ensign and his wife were separated at the time that he began an affair with Cynthia Hampton - one which her husband now swears resulted from a relentless pursuit of his wife, since obviously she has no autonomy or sexual desires of her own. It is similar to the affair that San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom conducted with his former friend-and-staffer's wife in which the politician is the single one, and the husband the cuckold. There's no official word on why the Hamptons stopped working for Ensign before the affair ended, though the New York Times reported that Ensign reconciled with his wife shortly before Cynthia Hampton left his employ.

Now, thanks to the New York Times, we have the gory details. Apparently, Ensign began putting feelers out for a new role for Douglas Hampton, top Washington aide who was suddenly in need of a new position. Ensign asked around, but neglected to provide the reason why:

The job pitch left out one salient fact: the senator was having an affair with Mr. Hampton's wife, Cynthia, a campaign aide. The tumult that the liaison was causing both families prompted Mr. Ensign, a two-term Republican, to try to contain the damage and find a landing spot for Mr. Hampton.

In the coming months, the senator arranged for Mr. Hampton to join a political consulting firm and lined up several donors as his lobbying clients, according to interviews, e-mail messages and other records. Mr. Ensign and his staff then repeatedly intervened on the companies' behalf with federal agencies, often after urging from Mr. Hampton.

So what's the problem? In Washington circles, you quickly start to find that everything is political. Especially when you do something stupid and try to cover your tracks:

In acknowledging the affair, Mr. Ensign cast it as a personal transgression, not a professional one. But an examination of his conduct shows that in trying to clean up the mess from the illicit relationship and distance himself from the Hamptons, he entangled political supporters, staff members and Senate colleagues, some of whom say they now feel he betrayed them.

And for Hampton, there wasn't enough money in the world to make him feel better about this affair:

Despite those efforts, Mr. Ensign's relationship with his one-time aide and the husband of his former mistress has ended in bitterness and recriminations. Mr. Hampton grew increasingly frustrated about his financial situation, believing that the senator had reneged on a deal to find him enough clients to sustain his income.

"You have not retained three clients for me as promised, and your poor choices have led to a deep hurt and financial impact to my family," Mr. Hampton wrote the senator in an e-mail message in July 2008. "At your request and your design, I left your organization to save your reputation and career, and mine has been ruined."

For his part, Mr. Ensign has complained that Mr. Hampton tried to extract exorbitant sums from him.

How exorbitant? Try to the tune of $8.5 million dollars! Ensign should have just made an Indecent Proposal, that would have been cheaper all the way around!

And what makes this even worse for Ensign?

Until he admitted the affair in June, Mr. Ensign, 51, was a top Senate Republican leader and was discussed as a possible presidential contender in 2012. The silver-haired senator with a statesman's looks and family money - his father helped found a Las Vegas casino - has championed conservative social values.

But the scandal forced him to resign as head of the Republican Senate Policy Committee and ended talk of any bid for the White House.

Mr. Ensign spent part of the summer apologizing to constituents. Drawing a contrast with former President Bill Clinton, whom he had voted to impeach as a House member during the Monica Lewinsky affair, Mr. Ensign said in August that his infidelity was largely a personal matter and added, "I haven't done anything legally wrong."

Senator's Aid After Affair Raises Flags Over Ethics [New York Times]
Ensign's Ex-Mistress, Husband Sought $8.5 Million [Associated Press]

Earlier:Husband Of Senator's Mistress Will Go To Any Lengths To Get Revenge