Ensign, one-time chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and rising star in the Republican Party, was forced to resign from his Senate seat and faces possible criminal and civil investigations by the Justice Department and the FEC. His former aide, Doug Hampton, was indicted in March for violating a one-year ban on lobbying after leaving the Hill. His former mistress, Cynthia Hampton, has filed for both bankruptcy and divorce. There are allegations that his parents, Michael and Sharon Ensign, may have submitted false affidavits to the FEC in their effort to help Ensign cover up illegal severance payments made from a family trust.
The friendship between the Hamptons and the Ensigns began when Ensign’s wife, Darlene, attended high school with Cynthia Hampton in Anaheim Hills, Calif. The two young women remained close after graduation, introducing the men that would one day be their spouses. Cynthia Hampton was a bridesmaid to Darlene Ensign when they married; their children were born just days apart.
When the Hamptons relocated from Southern California to Las Vegas in 2004, it fulfilled the two men’s “dream to always live by each other,” Cynthia Hampton testified. Her husband stayed with the Ensigns until the Senator helped him land a job at NV Energy. Cynthia Hampton took a role in the campaign office. The Hamptons purchased a home in the same gated community so the families could be just minutes apart.
For several happy years, the Hamptons and the Ensigns at times operated as one large family, holding joint dinners on Sunday evenings, playing golf and taking vacations to Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe and Del Mar. Cynthia Hampton drove carpools for the children of both families. Ensign paid for the Hampton children to attend the same private school as his own and helped with the purchase of an expensive house, luxuries which the family could not otherwise afford.
“They were always invited to everything, no matter what,” his father, Michael Ensign, testified during the investigation. “They were always there. They were best friends. And the kids were best friends.”
The idyllic existence began to sour when in November 2007 the Hampton family home was burglarized, prompting them to move into the Ensign residence, where the affair began. On Christmas Eve of that year, the two couples held a teary meeting in the Senator’s home office to discuss the affair and why it had to end, then celebrated the holiday jointly with their children.
But despite the promises made to their respective spouses, the affair continued.
On Valentine’s Day 2008, Ensign’s spiritual adviser Tim Coe, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Doug Hampton and others staged an intervention at the C Street house Ensign shared with a group of lawmakers. Just days afterward, when Ensign was holed up with Cynthia Hampton in a hotel, Coe again pleaded with the Senator to end the affair, saying: “I know exactly where you are. I know exactly what you are doing. Put your pants on and go home.”
But Ensign did not go home. Instead, the Senator said Doug Hampton could no longer work for him because Ensign was “in love with Ms. Hampton and wanted to marry her.” He redoubled his efforts to continue the affair, arranging for the purchase of two new cellphones so they could communicate undetected.