Oklahoma's straight arrow junior senator, Tom Coburn, was probably trying to do the right thing when he advised Sen. John Ensign to end his sexual relationship with a campaign staffer.
But the exact nature of Coburn's advice has become an issue in Washington, as the following report from the Washington Post makes clear:
In an interview this week, Doug Hampton also alleged that Sen. Tom Coburn, a close friend of Ensign's, urged Ensign to end the affair early last year and suggested financial compensation for the Hampton family.
Coburn's office acknowledged that he counseled Ensign to end the affair but denied suggesting any financial deal.
Yesterday, Coburn told the Roll Call newspaper that he would refuse any attempts to compel him to testify in court or at the Senate ethics committee about his role. Coburn, an obstetrician, claimed a legal privilege against such testimony as his physician and religious adviser.
"I was counseling him as a physician and as an ordained deacon," Coburn said. "That is privileged communication that I will never reveal to anybody. Not to the ethics committee, not to a court of law, not to anybody."
But Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor who is now executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said that neither privilege would apply to Coburn's case because Ensign cannot plausibly be his patient and because being a deacon does not qualify a person as clergy.