U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s documented role in the aftermath of the extramarital affair between former U.S. Sen. John Ensign and Cynthia Hampton should raise the question whether the Oklahoman should face his own ethics inquiry.
According to a recently released report by the Senate Select Committee On Ethics, Coburn apparently served as a negotiator for Ensign in trying to arrange a payout to Hampton and her husband, Doug, who both worked for the Nevada senator.
Coburn has denied he served as a negotiator “but was simply going to pass information to Senator Ensign,” according to the report. But an attorney for the Hamptons said “that Senator Coburn took an active role in the negotiations between Mr. Hampton and Senator Ensign, and this role included proposing specific resolutions,” the report states.
Both Coburn and Ensign once lived together at the C Street Center, a Washington townhome, which is associated with The Fellowship, also called The Family, a fundamentalist Christian organization. According to the report, Coburn “was a close spiritual and personal confidant . . .to Senator Ensign.”
“Marriage recognizes the ideal of a father and mother living together to raise their children. Marriage is the cornerstone on which our society was founded. For those who say that the Constitution is so sacred that we cannot or should not adopt the Federal Marriage Amendment, I would simply point out that marriage, and the sanctity of that institution, predates the American Constitution and the founding of our nation. Marriage, as a social institution, predates every other institution on which ordered society in America has relied.”
Hypocritical actions and sanctimonious drivel are nothing new among the religious-right folks, of course, but Ensign’s case takes it to a new level. Here’s the full report, which reads, in part, like a tawdry novella.
Ensign recently resigned from the Senate, and the ethics committee report has received wide coverage in the national media. Coburn’s role in the affair has remained somewhat murky, though it has long been known he was involved in trying to clean up its aftermath once it became discovered.
Below is just one section of the report that shows how intimately involved Coburn was in the Ensign affair. The section recounts some of the testimony of the Hamptons’ attorney, Daniel Albregts.
Mr. Albregts spoke with Senator Coburn on three occasions, all on May 22, 2009. Mr. Albregts first had a five-minute call with Senator Coburn. Senator Coburn said that “he wanted to help Doug out.” Senator Coburn also stated that he liked Doug Hampton, felt bad about what happened, and he was glad that they retained council to resolve the issue. Senator Coburn told Mr. Albregts to have Mr. Hampton tell him what he thinks he needs to start over, and Senator Coburn would then take that to the Ensigns.
Mr. Albregts had an eight-minute call with Senator Coburn approximately an hour later. Senator Coburn recalled that he was on his tractor at his home mowing his lawn at the time and was annoyed to receive the call in the middle of that task. Mr. Albregts tried to get a ballpark estimate from Senator Coburn as to the amount he would be comfortable with. Mr. Albregts proposed $8 million dollars based on a document Doug Hampton prepared. According to Mr. Albregts, Senator Coburn said that the figure was absolutely ridiculous. . . .
The section clearly shows Coburn serving as a negotiator for a man caught in an extramarital affair and trying to contain the damage. The report certainly shows Coburn trying to get a better deal for Ensign and his family. That’s basic negotiation, right? Negotiators make deals.
What would motivate Coburn to get involved in something that appears as shady as this? Does it represent an ethics violation or worse? What else did Coburn know? Was he part of a cover-up?
Ensign could face federal charges. There is “a strong inference,” according to the report, that Ensign wanted a $96,000 payment to the Hamptons provided by his parents “to be made in secret and kept secret.” Evidence suggests the payment itself and its secrecy, the report states, probably violated federal campaign laws and senate rules.
But what about Coburn’s basic judgment in the case? How much did he know about the $96,000 that went to the Hamptons from Ensign’s parents? The report cites Tim Coe, a spiritual advisor connected to C Street Center, who said a call between Coburn and Ensign’s father “absolutely” occurred. (Coburn has denied it.) Why didn’t Coburn simply urge Ensign to end the affair and leave it at that?
As Talking Points Memo points out, “Coburn’s cooperation with the investigation did not come after a grant of immunity from prosecution.”
Regardless whether he faces his own investigation(s) or not, Coburn needs to drop the word-choice game. Oklahomans deserve to get the truth from their senator, who grandstands as a social and fiscal conservative with so-called Christian values but then serves as an extramarital affair broker and argues for steep cuts in federal programs for the country’s most vulnerable citizens, including the elderly.