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U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn needs to explain more thoroughly if or how much he was involved in paying money to the former mistress of his friend and roommate U.S. Sen. John Ensign.
So far no one has accused Coburn of doing anything legally inappropriate, but his refusal to clearly delineate his role in the matter continues to cast doubts on his overall integrity. Ironically, just as Coburn expresses his opposition against Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic person ever nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, his own decision making is causing a stir outside the state.
Ensign, a married Republican from Nevada, has admitted he had an affair with his former campaign treasurer, Cynthia Hampton, who was also married. Apparently Coburn was aware of the affair, confronted Ensign about it in February 2008, and counseled him about it. The two shared a Washington, D.C. home. Later, Ensign said his parents paid Hampton and her family $96,000 in gifts, according to media reports.
The issue here is hardly that a prominent politician had an extramarital affair. That seems like business as usual in Washington these days. The issue is also not about the hypocrisy of the Republican “family values” crowd either, though that’s a legitimate point to make.
The issue as it concerns Coburn is whether any taxpayers’ or Ensign campaign money went to Hampton or her husband in an attempt to buy their silence or to make some type of restitution. If so, then a crime was probably committed. Did Coburn suggest that Ensign pay the woman and her family money? Hampton’s husband, Doug, also a former Ensign staffer, claims Coburn did just that. Coburn has denied Hampton’s claim.
For now, Coburn has claimed “privilege” as a physician and Southern Baptist Church deacon and says he won’t discuss the matter even if there is an official investigation. This is what he said about the matter:
I was counseling him as a physician and as an ordained deacon. … That is privileged communication that I will never reveal to anybody. Not to the Ethics Committee, not to a court of law, not to anybody.
But it’s disingenuous for Coburn to claim he was treating Ensign as a patient-Coburn is an obstetrician-and does a church deacon really have privilege rights like an ordained pastor, especially when it involves a roommate and a friend? Many people would consider that an obvious conflict of interest. Under Coburn’s wide definition, anything anyone ever says to him can be considered privileged unless, say, he didn’t want to claim privilege.
Earlier, Coburn’s office issued this statement:
Dr. Coburn did everything he could to encourage Sen. Ensign to end his affair and to persuade Sen. Ensign to repair the damage he had caused to his own marriage and the Hampton’s marriage. Had Sen. Ensign followed Dr. Coburn’s advice, this episode would have ended, and been made public, long ago.
Was Coburn just trying to help a friend? Maybe so. Most people can relate to that. But once money became involved in the issue, it raised ethical and legal questions. Coburn needs to address those questions in a straightforward manner for his Oklahoma constituents.
Meanwhile, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics has asked the Department of Justice to investigate the matter. It has also asked the Senate Ethics Committee to look into the issue. It specifically wants the DOJ to look into Cynthia Hampton’s severance payment of $25,000.
(Here is the link to the Facebook group Embarrassing Oklahoma Elected Officials.)