She was listed in his phone under “Aunt Judy.” He told her he wanted to marry her at the National Prayer Breakfast. There were secret cell phones which the two used to exchange text messages at a rate of nearly 20 per day. And after her husband spotted the lovers’ cars outside a hotel in Nevada, his long-time spiritual adviser called and told him to “put your pants on and go home.”
The affair between former Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) and his campaign staffer Cynthia Hampton began after the Hampton household was robbed in November 2007. Doug Hampton, an aide and longtime friend of the senator, arrived home to find his front door open. He soon discovered burglars had broken into the downstairs guest bathroom and stole electronics and jewelery.
Cynthia Hampton was shaken up by the robbery. Ensign invited the family to move in with him. It wasn’t such a strange situation — after all, the two families had known each other for two decades. Cynthia was high school friends with Darlene Ensign, and their two husbands hit it off when the two married. The guys played golf and basketball together. Their kids became friends. The families vacationed together, and the Hamptons moved into the same gated community where the Ensigns lived in 2004.
The extramarital affair between Sen. Ensign and Ms. Hampton started after the Hamptons moved into the Ensigns home. It’s well chronicled in a report by the special counsel hired by the Senate Ethics Committee and released Thursday which found the former Senator had violated multiple ethics rules and laws and referred the case to federal prosecutors and the Federal Elections Commission. TPM’s narrative is based on the special counsel’s report, which does not focus on “the intimate details of the affair,” but provides a specific timeline of how things unfolded.
Ensign initiated the affair. When Cynthia asked him if he had lost his mind, he said he had. But he was “very persistent and relentless” in his pursuit — she said he just “kept calling and calling, and would never take no for an answer.”
Hampton, says the report, “was in a vulnerable emotional state and a mess at the time Senator Ensign was pursuing her, as her home had been burglarized, a family member was undergoing medical treatment, and Mr. Hampton’s travel schedule back and forth to Washington gave them little time to be together.”
It didn’t take long for Doug Hampton to discover the affair. It happened a couple days before Christmas 2007, when he and Cynthia were headed to the airport to pick up their son. His wife was picking up their son’s girlfriend when Hampton looked at her cell phone. He noticed a text message from Ensign which “made it clear an affair was occurring” — press reports indicated it read “How wonderful it is. … Scared, but excited.”
When she (and presumably, their son’s girlfriend) got back in the car, Hampton said he knew what she and Ensign were up to and called Ensign to tell him as well. Ensign was also on his way to the airport to greet the Hamptons’ son, and when the their two cars were in the airport parking lot, Hampton jumped out of his car and chased Ensign.
Cynthia went into the airport and stayed there for hours, later taking a taxi home. She set up a time for the two couples to discuss what happened. On Christmas Eve, they met in Ensign’s home office where the senator cried and both he and Cynthia said the affair would stop. Both couples told their children, and the next day, the families celebrated Christmas together.
But Ensign began texting Hampton again the next month, and the affair picked up. The senator gave her $3,000 in cash for hotel rooms and items for herself, and told her more than once that he wanted to marry her — once at the National Prayer Breakfast.
When he traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan with Doug Hampton on a congressional delegation trip in February 2008, Ensign called Cynthia several times, running her phone bill up to nearly $1,000. Aware of the contact between Ensign and his wife, Hampton asked to borrow the senator’s phone to call Cynthia and watched him scroll down to “Aunt Judy” instead of her real name.
Back from the Middle East, Hampton asked Ensign’s long-time spiritual adviser Tim Coe to help end the affair. Coe brought in his brother, as well as Marty Sherman (the founder of the secretive Fellowship Foundation) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). The group confronted Ensign about the affair at the infamous C Street house on Valentine’s Day.
Still, the affair went on. From the report:
On February 16, 2008, two days after the intervention, Tim Coe received a call from Doug Hampton. Mr. Hampton was looking for the Senator to have him sign some documents for the NRSC, and saw his car and Ms. Hampton’s car parked in a parking lot of a hotel close to their Summerlin neighborhood. Mr. Coe “pleaded with him [Hampton] to go home.” Mr. Coe called Senator Ensign and stated “I know exactly where you are. I know exactly what you are doing. Put your pants on and go home.” Senator Ensign initially said he would not leave the hotel room, telling Mr. Coe “I can’t, I love her [Ms. Hampton].” Senator Ensign ultimately agreed to leave the hotel. After he left the hotel, Senator Ensign told Mr. Coe that he wanted to marry Ms. Hampton.
The Hamptons went to Ensigns’ home to talk about the affair the next day, where Ensign said he was in love with Cynthia and wanted to marry her and that Doug couldn’t work for him anymore. Ensign called his wife to tell her about his feelings and moved out of the family home to live with his parents.
Cynthia Hampton and Ensign continued their relationship, with the senator buying two new cell phones to allow them to talk without being detected. But Ensign’s wife found out about the phones and they were disconnected. Ensign also created e-mail addresses under false names — email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and
email@example.com — as a way of talking with Cynthia.
Ensign was confronted about the affair again by other members of Congress, but the relationship kept going. From the report:
According to Ms. Hampton, the affair continued very sporadically, with one meeting in June and one in July 2008 for a very short visit. Ms. Hampton felt that she was not a healthy person at that time, and her attitude during these meetings was that my life is ruined, so whatever, and that she agreed to see the Senator only because his persistence wore her down. Although Ms. Hampton continually told Senator Ensign to stop contacting her, he ignored her wishes. This was frustrating to her because “if he would have just left me alone, it would have ended back in December.” Ms. Hampton sent Senator Ensign an email in August 2008 imploring him to stop contacting her because her life and family is in shambles. Ms. Hampton never heard from Senator Ensign again. Ms. Hampton saw Senator Ensign at her children’s graduation from high school in 2008, but has not seen him since that event.
According to the report, Cynthia Hampton has filed for divorce and bankruptcy, and is currently moving out of California to work for an unnamed Christian organization. Her husband Doug, on the other hand, has been charged with seven counts of violating conflict-of-interest laws arising from the lobbying work Ensign arranged for him after leaving the senator’s office.