(Steve Sebelius) – Never has U.S. Sen. John Ensign cheered for The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman more than on Monday, when ABC’s competing Nightline aired its interview with Ensign’s former best friend and top aide, Doug Hampton.
Most of the details in the interview were not new — Ensign had an affair with Hampton’s wife, Cindy, who worked for his campaign; he covered it up; he got caught; he said it was a mistake; he continued the affair; he got caught again; he said it was a mistake again; he fired the Hamptons; he continued the affair; his parents paid hush money/severance to the Hamptons; Doug Hampton finally went public; Ensign confessed.
But there were a couple of interesting tidbits:
• When Doug Hampton first confronted Ensign about the affair around Christmas 2007, he was “like a kid” and “scrambling.”
• On Christmas Eve 2007, with both families at Ensign’s home, Ensign “cries like a little boy” about the affair. Did Doug Hampton see remorse in those tears? “Yeah, panic,” Hampton replies.
• Ensign forced the Hamptons to return to Washington D.C. after they’d been fired, so he could throw them a going-away party so that no one would be suspicious about the real reasons for their departure from Ensign’s employ.
• Hampton flatly rejected the obviously false explanation for the $96,000 check cut to his family from Ensign’s parents, part of a “pattern of generosity” to the Hampton family from the Ensign family. “Pattern of generosity? ‘Oh, hey, listen, we realize our son is having an affair with your wife, maybe some money will help?’ It’s ridiculous,” Hampton said.
Notice anything? The common thread running through all of this — as well as a letter Ensign was forced to write after that now-famous confrontation with fellow U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn at the C Street house both senators shared — is lying.
At every turn, Ensign lied, whether through his tears, his words, his pen or his parent’s checkbook, Ensign did whatever it took to achieve what seemed to be his only goal: getting alone time with Cindy Hampton. The only time he got angry, according to Hampton’s repeated statements, was when Hampton dared to confront him, and to induce others to do so as well.
It’s entirely possible, we think, that Ensign has never felt a single ounce of human remorse for what he’s done in this tawdry affair, despite his tears and his grit-jawed confession before the media this summer. It’s entirely possible that he cares not a whit for his own family, Hampton’s family, his friends, his Christian roommates or even Cindy Hampton. Why else would he so recklessly and remorselessly manipulate everyone around him to his own twisted end?
All that mattered to Ensign, it seems, was getting what he wanted. And to do that, he exercised his preexisting (and almost preternatural) talent for prevarication. Could it be that lying is not just something Ensign does, with great skill and ease? Could it be that, in the end, lying is something Ensign simply is?
(Mr. Sebelius is editor of CityLife newspaper in Las Vegas)