Colleagues Accept Ensign's Apology
By Paul Kane
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) apologized to his colleagues today in a closed-door meeting of Senate Republicans, drawing a warm embrace from a GOP conference that just a week ago considered him a rising star before he revealed an affair with a woman who was a close family friend.
Ensign -- who took circuitous routes to and from the luncheon to avoid facing the media -- gave what senators called a two-minute speech to his fellow Senate Republicans, drawing a round of applause afterward that, they said, closed the issue in their minds despite calls from some watchdogs for an ethics committee investigation of the affair.
"He apologized and we welcomed him back," Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) told reporters afterward. Added Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.): "I think he's prepared to move on, and I wish him well."
Even Democrats resisted criticizing Ensign. Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he still considered Ensign a close friend, noting that he's known Ensign's father, casino executive Mike Ensign, for decades. "I hope he works his way through this," Reid said of John Ensign.
After spending most of last week hunkered down with his family in Las Vegas, Ensign returned to the Capitol yesterday. Today's remarks were his first to senators since last Tuesday's surprise announcement in Las Vegas, when he admitted having a more than eight-month affair last year with Cynthia L. Hampton, a longtime friend of the Ensign family. For the previous five years she served as a book-keeping consultant for his political committees. In April 2008, at the same time Ensign and his wife separated, Hampton abruptly left her job on the senator's political payroll at the same time her husband, Douglas Hampton, left Ensign's legislative payroll as an administrative assistant in the Senate office. The affair continued into August, both sides say.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal-leaning watchdog group, has suggested the Senate ethics committee should conduct an investigation into whether the Hamptons were fired from their jobs because of the extramarital affair, which would violate Senate rules on the proper grounds for dismissing employees. Under congressional rules, Doug Hampton had just six months to file a complaint against Ensign with a Senate office set up to deal with employment issues, although no such prohibition applied to Cindy Hampton.
In a statement Friday, Ensign's office said a lawyer for the Hamptons had been asking for an "exorbitant" amount of money and that they discovered early last week Doug Hampton had contacted Fox News about the affair, prompting his hastily arranged press event to reveal the affair on his own terms.
Last week Ensign resigned his position as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, the No. 4 position in leadership, and today Ensign's colleagues said this was private matter among the two families, with no need for any further public revelations or investigation.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Ensign delivered a "heartfelt apology" and that he was "somber and serious".
"I think he's been very stand up about it," Corker added.
Ensign, however, continued to duck questions from the media about the scandal. For today's meeting, Ensign took a back stairwell that led into the back door of the Mansfield Room just off the chamber floor, allowing him to avoid the normal entrance where a group of photographers and reporters are usually gathered. Exiting the meeting, he took the same back route without seeing any media.
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