If the Senate Ethics Committee’s report on the ethics scandals of former Sen. John Ensign were a movie, the Nevada Republican would no doubt be the star — but Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) would get second billing.
Coburn’s role as an intermediary between his friend and former roommate Ensign and Doug Hampton, the husband of the woman Ensign was having an affair with, has been pretty well established. Coburn has denied playing the role of negotiator over the amount of money Ensign should pay the Hamptons.
But other people involved told investigators say Coburn, whose name is mentioned 46 times in the Ethics Committee’s report, played a pretty crucial role. And the report indicates that Coburn might not have given investigators the whole story.
One specific point of contention: whether Coburn talked to Sen. Ensign’s father Michael Ensign. No doubt, says Tim Coe, a long-time spiritual adviser for Ensign:
According to Mr. Coe’s detailed and specific recollection, a call between Senator Coburn and Michael Ensign “absolutely” occurred. Michael Ensign stated that he appreciated the call, and “he’d handle it.”
After that call, Ensign called Coe and cursed him out, telling him he had no right to contact his father, according to Coe. Ensign hung up before he could respond. But Coburn says that call never happened.
Senator Coburn denied speaking with Michael Ensign after he was informed about the affair. Michael Ensign did not recall whether a call with Senator Coburn had taken place, but in response to a question from the Special Counsel, Michael Ensign allowed as how the call may have taken place.
Another potential problem for Coburn — his role in negotiating a “gift” for the Hamptons from Ensign’s parents, which the Senator referred to as a “severance” payment until a lawyer told him that wasn’t a good idea. The Ethics Committee found that payout was in violation of campaign finance laws.
As Elise Foley reports:
[Coburn] spoke to Hampton’s attorney, Daniel Albregts, three times on May 22, 2009, to discuss money Ensign planned to give the Hamptons. Coburn first said he wanted to “help Doug out” because he liked him and felt bad about what had happened, the report says. The Oklahoma Republican asked Albregts to find out what Hampton needed to start over.
According to the report, Albregts called about an hour later, interrupting Coburn from mowing his lawn on a tractor. The lawyer told the senator that Hampton had proposed $8 million to resettle his family and find a new job. Albregts told the Ethics Committee that Coburn countered, calling the figure “absolutely ridiculous.” Instead, Coburn reportedly said the Ensigns should purchase the Hampton’s home and give them some money to live off of while they looked for new jobs.
In a third call, Albregts proposed payments for the Hamptons of $1.2 million for their home and $1.6 million for relocation, the report says. During that five-minute call, Coburn said he thought that was reasonable and that he would take the request to Ensign. The former senator from Nevada, however, refused to pay that total.
While Hampton’s attorney said that Coburn said of the $1.2 million and $1.6 million figures that “that’s what I had in mind and I think is fair,” Coburn told investigators he was only passing along information to Ensign.
Coburn’s cooperation with the investigation did not come after a grant of immunity from prosecution. Coburn’s office declined to comment on the report. But a source familiar with the investigation told TPM that Coburn’s participation was voluntary. “The report should have said that and didn’t,” the source said. “There was no deal of any kind.”
Additional reporting by Susan Crabtree.