Las Vegas Sun

October 7, 2022

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There’s enough proof: Ensign unworthy

After two interviews and some private chats over the past few months with Doug Hampton, I gleaned that his life consisted of two overriding motivations:

1. Get money from John Ensign.

2. Force John Ensign from office.

So it did not surprise me as No. 1 became less likely and No. 2 seemed evanescent that Hampton decided to unload his storehouse of damaging documentation where it could do the most harm: The New York Times.

Like a fire that starts with a sequoia and spreads to the surrounding forest, Ensign has since been scorched by a variety of publications, from pieces in the likes of Politico and Roll Call to a blazing editorial in The Washington Post that concluded thusly:

“What kind of man lets his parents clean up his mistakes (by paying off an old girlfriend) or misleads supporters (into hiring Mr. Hampton) or ensnares friends (such as Mr. Coburn) in his tawdry affairs? Mr. Ensign recently delivered a pronouncement about public mistrust of Washington: He’s a good example of why.”

What kind of man indeed. That is the question that goes beyond ongoing ethics or Justice Department probes and gets to the nub of L’Affair Ensign: What kind of man has an affair with his best friend’s wife, both of whom are on staff, has his parents pay them off with an amount transparently concocted to avoid exposure and then dissembles to friends and associates as he tries to pawn the husband off on them, perhaps breaking laws, while he continues to pursue the wife?

What kind of man? One whose every word, whose every motivation, whose every action must now be greeted with suspicion, rendering him nearly useless as a legislator but supremely useful as a political symbol for the opposition.

You saw that this week as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sought to wrap Ensign around Sue Lowden, the highest profile of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s opponents, who has said she welcomes Ensign’s support.

Even more interesting — and so revealing — is the behavior of Reid, who has rebuffed requests for comment by referring to the scandal, in identical verbiage as Lowden, as a “personal matter.” Reid might have a motivation beyond friendship in shying away from criticizing the junior senator — the longer Ensign stays, the better for the majority leader and Democrats who might want to use him as a foil in the 2010 elections.

Come next year, Reid might well be apologizing to his pal after using him in an ad by employing a phrase from Ensign’s infamous, revolting handwritten letter to Cindy Hampton: “I used you for my own pleasure.” That’s the kind of man Reid, Nevada’s Machiavelli, is.

Even though Ensign is once again being greeted with the sounds of silence from his GOP colleagues, Hampton’s No. 2 goal still won’t be accomplished unless enough skittishness percolates inside the Senate Republican caucus. That could happen if the ethics panel begins holding hearings in a daily CSPAN horror show. There is a lot of material.

For instance, the Times all but documented what anyone with a triple-digit IQ already had concluded about Ensign’s claim that the $96,000 paid to the Hampton family was a “gift” from his concerned parents: That it was a lie.

First, the Times produced the check from an Ensign family trust made out to “Doug, Cindy, Brandon and Blake Hampton.” If you hearken back to Ensign’s God-is-love-but-you-are-not letter to Cindy Hampton, he wrote of “Doug, Brandon, Blake or Brittany.” Why wasn’t poor Brittany worthy of the Ensign family generosity?

More telling was the April 2, 2008, note from Hampton to himself about his conditions for leaving Ensign’s employ with his wife, which included handwritten references to severance for both of them. That came five days before the check was written, so it is reasonable to assume the $96,000 was severance/hush money, not a gift. What kind of man indeed.

Ensign’s subsequent conduct of under false pretenses trying to get Hampton jobs with businesses he regulates does more than raise legal questions. I say false pretenses because I doubt these contacts with NV Energy or Allegiant Air began with Ensign saying, “I’m sleeping with this guy’s wife and I need to assuage my guilt and keep him quiet, so can you hire him?”

If it weren’t true, it would be hard to believe anyone who isn’t a villainous caricature in a novel could act this way. I care less that any laws were broken than that anyone could behave so grotesquely and believe he still warrants the public trust. What kind of man could think that?

One not fit to be a United States senator.

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