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From the Archive

Scott Dickensheets
Scott Dickensheets
Posted on June 9   |   Updated on June 28
Photo of former Nevada senator John Ensign

John Ensign, former Nevada senator. (Karen Bleier/Getty)

We’re barely downwind of the official legislative session, and politics is still in the air ... so what the hell: Let’s throw it back 14 years to June 16, 2009, the day John Ensign’s halo officially came off. That’s when the Nevada senator — said at the time to harbor tentative White House aspirations — publicly admitted to an affair with one of his staffers, Cynthia Hampton, wife of another staffer, Ensign's (soon-to-be-erstwhile) friend Doug Hampton.

His admission opened a real can of squirms: ruptured friendships, allegations of threats, as well as talk of improper payoffs (did Ensign give Cynthia more severance pay than he reported? And why did Ensign’s parents give the Hampton’s $96,000?), and the cryptic involvement of a secretive Christian fundamentalist political society known as The Family. The whole timeline is sordidly fascinating.

It may not have been the worst scandal in Nevada history — there have been some doozies, as well as some other doozies — but it was certainly enough to interest a Senate ethics committee. Its investigation was still ongoing in the spring of 2011 when Ensign resigned a year before his term was up. He returned to normal life as a veterinarian. His fade from the public eye was apt for a politician whose most statesmanlike quality, as one wag noted at the time, was probably his hair.

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