Payments To A Mistress

The revelation that the parents of a U.S. Senator paid $96,000 to the family of his mistress prompted a Congressional watchdog group to call Thursday for a federal criminal investigation of the matter.

The news of the payments came from Sen. John Ensign's lawyer, who confirmed that Ensign's parents each paid $12,000 to the woman, her husband and their two children.

"The payments were made as gifts, accepted as gifts and complied with tax rules governing gifts," said Ensign's lawyer Paul Coggins in a written statement.

"After the Senator told his parents about the affair, his parents decided to make the gifts out of concern for the well-being of long-time family friends during a difficult time," Coggins said, labeling the gifts as part of a "pattern of generosity by the Ensign family to the Hamptons and

But news of that also emerged amid reports that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) had urged Ensign to make a substantial payment of money to the family as a way to express his remorse over his affair with Cindy Hampton, a charge that Coburn denied.

Hampton also received $25,000 in severance from Ensign's campaign committee.  While she worked there, her husband worked on Ensign's Senate staff.

"As despicable as Sen. Ensign's conduct has been, it now appears it also may have been criminal," charged Melanie Sloan, who heads the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

"The Department of Justice has a responsibility to ensure that all Americans - even high level political officials - are held accountable for their actions," Sloan added.

Whether a criminal review occurs or not, the news of the family payments to the family of Ensign's mistress certainly breathes some new life into this story, and presents more public relations issues for the GOP as well.