Earth to Senator Ensign: “Put your pants on and go home”

Senate ethics complaints almost never come down to a resignation; it’s a ruler to the wrist and they move on.

It seems that John Ensign is the exception. If what Rachel Maddow says in the following report is true, this is a genuinely horrible human being, a sorry specimen — and not in a good way, since he’s apparently not sorry at all. Be prepared to be appalled.

A terrible human being. How did you fail thee? Let me count the ways. The horrid story starts at 5:05 in the clip. First it’s lurid, then turns cruel, then criminal.

The timeline is a little munged in the Maddow report, since she narrates the financial destruction of the Hamptons after the affair is revealed, and then jumps back to narrate the affair itself.

In simple, the story is:

■ The Hamptons and Ensigns are best friends from way back. Cynthia Hampton is Darlene Ensign’s bridesmaid, for example. (Lurid starts here.)

■ Ensign was the sole source of financial support for the Hampton family, including subsidizing the education of their children. In Maddow’s words, the Hamptons are “totally financially dependent” on Ensign.

■ In this context, the affair starts, with Ensign very much the pursuer.

■ When Doug Hampton finds out about the affair (Christmas 2007), things start coming apart, but after promising Doug Hampton to leave his wife alone, he pursues her even harder, driven by what he calls “love.”

■ In early 2008, C Street is involved — first, trying to get Ensign to stop the affair, then negotiating for Ensign with the Hamptons. Both Tom Coburn and Doug Coe (C Street head) are involved.

■ Once the affair ends, Ensign retaliates, immediately ending all financial support. Both Hamptons are fired, all payments for their home are stopped, along with school tuition for the Hamptons children. The Hamptons lose their house. They are now ruined financially. (This is the cruel part.)

■ To tamp down the brewing storm (and silence Doug Hampton), Ensign arranged an illegal lobbying job for him, using blackmail and the power of his office to “make it so” (in Picard’s grand-gesture phrase). If you’re guessing “This is criminal,” you wouldn’t be wrong.

■ Ensign even got his parents to lie about a Hampton payoff in a way that may put them at risk of prosecution themselves.

Maddow inventories the wreckage starting at 11:45. It’s considerable. The Ralston interview is good as always (13:45).

Conscienceless. Doug Hampton is under indictment by the Justice Dept. An indictment for Ensign could follow. (Or not, depending on whether you think these things are traded away during, ahem, an election year. See Jon Ralston at 17:15.)

Watch what happens to Coburn. Then watch how this is spun — lurid or criminal? And stay tuned.


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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