‘Frat House for Jesus’ senator: Each month we ask, ‘Is anybody here having an affair?’
Buried at the end of a long New Yorker article about a secretive Christian group who own a dormitory for conservative lawmakers on C Street is an odd quote by a sitting Republican senator who was accused of urging a colleague to buy off his mistress.
At Talking Points Memo, David Kurtz notes, “The New Yorker has some new details on the C Street house, ‘The Fellowship,’ the secretive Christian group that owns and rents it to congressmen, and the second of the two interventions they did with Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) to try to get him to end his affair.”
In July of 2009, CQ Politics reported, “A Capitol Hill townhouse that serves as a dormitory and meeting place for a band of conservative Christian lawmakers has been linked to a third episode of marital infidelity, this time in a Mississippi court filing by a former lawmaker’s estranged wife.”
In an “alienation of affection” lawsuit, former Rep. Charles W. Pickering Jr.’s estranged wife, Leisha, alleges that he carried on an extramarital affair with a onetime college sweetheart while he lived at a house at 133 C Street in Southeast Washington. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Gov. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., both of whom admitted to cheating on their wives in recent weeks, are members of the Christian fellowship of lawmakers known as “C Street” for the address of the house where several of the members live at any given time.
At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall observed last summer, “You remember the C Street Group, the combo Bible fellowship and group home for members of Congress up on Capitol Hill. But it’s been occurring to us that the C Street Group, which is an emanation of a shadowy religious outfit called ‘the Family’, might not be a religious fellowship at all so much as a covert 12 Step Group from Republican Hound Dogs, womanizers and sex addicts trying to get clean during their tenure in the hallowed halls of Congress.”
Excerpts from Peter J. Boyer’s New Yorker article, “Frat House for Jesus,” follow:
The men leading this intervention considered themselves Ensign’s closest friends in Washington. Four of those who confronted Ensign—Senator Tom Coburn and Representatives Bart Stupak, Mike Doyle, and Zach Wamp—lived with him in an eighteenth-century brick row house on C Street, in southeast Washington, a short walk from the Capitol. The men regarded themselves in part as an accountability group. Despite their political differences—Coburn and Wamp are Republicans, Stupak and Doyle are Democrats—they had pledged to hold one another to a life lived by the principles of Jesus, and they considered the Tuesday supper gatherings at C Street an inviolable ritual.
Some in the C Street group wanted Ensign out of the house, but the prevailing view was that he should stay. Dealing with the affair seemed to pose a test of the group’s very purpose: in the fevered atmosphere of an election year, could the men of C Street cope with the situation privately? Looking back, Coburn believed that the Ensign case was a C Street success story. A year after that midnight confrontation, word of Ensign’s affair had not leaked, and Ensign and his wife, Darlene, had reconciled.
Doug and Cindy Hampton were together, too, but Doug Hampton was still angry at Ensign. He believed that Ensign had destroyed his life, and, with the help of powerful friends, had got away with it. In June, 2009, after Ensign learned that Hampton intended to reveal the affair, he publicly confessed, and resigned his Republican leadership position. The tawdriness of the double betrayal, of wife and close friend, produced a wave of sex-scandal stories, but the damage was confined to Ensign. Then, a week later, the Republican governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, made his own public confession, a rambling tale of the “impossible love” that he had found with a woman in Argentina. Sanford spoke of an inner struggle over the betrayal of his marriage vows, and mentioned that he had sought the counsel of some of his old circle in Washington. “I was part of a group called C Street when I was in Washington,” he said. “It was, believe it or not, a Christian Bible study—some folks that asked members of Congress hard questions that I think were very, very important. And I’ve been working with them.”
The press soon discovered that John Ensign lived at the C Street house. A month later, in the circuit court of Hinds County, Mississippi, Leisha Pickering, the wife of the former Republican congressman Chip Pickering, another resident of the C Street house, filed an alienation-of-affection lawsuit suggesting that Pickering had committed adultery while living there. A picture began to emerge of a boys-gone-wild house of pleasure. The men of C Street, pledged to silence, declined to respond to press inquiries, which only heightened interest (“THE POLITICAL ENCLAVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME,” a Washington Post headline read). Public records revealed little; the house was registered to an obscure evangelical youth group, and enjoyed the tax status of a registered church. Word spread that the tenants were paying below-market rents (about nine hundred dollars a month each), which prompted an inquiry by the Office of Congressional Ethics. Even if the residents had been inclined to talk about the house, some knew nothing more about it than the fact that they made out their monthly checks to “C Street Center.”
Boyer’s lengthy article concludes, “In the meantime, when Congress is in session the Tuesday-night gatherings continue, still attended by members who no longer live in the house. During the supper accountability session, according to Tom Coburn, “a question that’ll be asked about every four weeks is, Is anybody here having an affair?”
Democratic blogger Taegan Goddard observes, “Despite a series of recent sex scandals by current and former residents — Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) being the most recent — Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) insists the ‘supper accountability session’ will continue on Tuesday nights and ‘a question that’ll be asked about every four weeks is, Is anybody here having an affair?’”
Last year, Coburn denied that he had advised Ensign to buy off his mistress.
The Washington Post reported,
Aides to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) acknowledged Wednesday that he counseled Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) to break off an affair with a staffer, but they denied allegations that Coburn suggested giving the woman and her husband financial assistance to start a new life.
“Dr. Coburn did everything he could to encourage Senator Ensign to end his affair and to persuade Senator Ensign to repair the damage he had caused to his own marriage and the Hamptons’ marriage,” Coburn spokesman John Hart said in a statement. “Had Senator Ensign followed Dr. Coburn’s advice, this episode would have ended, and been made public, long ago.”
The statement came in reaction to a televised interview with former Ensign aide Doug Hampton, who said that the Nevada Republican persisted in his pursuit of his wife, Cynthia, despite pleas from Coburn and others to end the dalliance.
Hampton, who has not previously talked publicly about the scandal, also alleged that Coburn and other intermediaries urged Ensign to pay the Hamptons to help “take care of” the affair, according to excerpts of the interview.
Doug Hampton says in the interview, however, that Ensign wrote the letter only after being confronted by representatives of the church foundation that owns the Washington house Ensign shares with other Christian lawmakers.
The group of men, including Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., urged Ensign to give the Hamptons “millions” in financial assistance and write a remorseful letter in order to end the relationship, Hampton said.
Hampton, through a lawyer, asked for millions in what he considered restitution for the family’s suffering, he acknowledges in Wednesday’s interview. An Ensign spokesman previously called the request an “outrageous demand” and said it was referred to the senator’s lawyer.
But Hampton says he got the idea for a financial settlement from the churchmen and Coburn. “These men were the ones that said, ‘What we need to do is we need to get Doug Hampton’s home paid for and we need to get Doug Hampton some money and we need to get his family to Colorado,’ ” he says.
When the intervention didn’t work, the Hamptons were pushed out of their jobs, he says.
“Senator Tom Coburn asked and was involved in these negotiations out of goodwill and good faith,” Hampton said, referring to “the belief from Tom Coburn and many that some restitution needs to take place here.”
Coburn’s office disputed the assertion. “Doug’s statement is false,” Hart said.
According to the Washington Post, however, the Fellowship Foundation is itself linked to an even more secretive religious organization — Youth With a Mission (YWAM), whose Washington, DC branch owns the “C Street House” where Ensign has lived and where Sanford has participated in Bible study.
A diarist at Daily Kos points out that “YWAM founder leader Loren Cunningham has publicly outlined a vision for Christian world-control,” which involves establishing domination over government, education, business, the media, and other areas.