The Po­lit­i­cal En­clave That Dare Not Speak Its Name

The San­ford and En­sign Scan­dals Open a Door On Pre­vi­ously Se­cre­tive ‘C Street’ Spir­i­tual Haven

The Washington Post - - Front Page - By Manuel Roig-Franzia

No sign ex­plains the prim and proper red brick house on C Street SE. Noth­ing hints at its se­crets. It blends into the streetscap­e, tucked be­hind the Li­brary of Congress, a few steps from the Can­non House Of­fice Build­ing, a few more steps to the Capi­tol. This is just the way its res­i­dents want it to be. Al­most in­vis­i­ble.

But through one week’s events, this stately old pad — a pile of sturdy brick that once housed a con­vent — has be­come the very nexus of Amer­i­can scan­dal, a cu­ri­ous marker in the gallery of cap­i­tal shame. Mark San­ford, South Carolina’s disgraced Repub­li­can gov­er­nor and a for­mer con­gress­man, looked here for an­swers — for sup­port, for the word of God — as his mar­riage crum­bled over his af­fair with an Ar­gen­tine woman. John En­sign, the se­na­tor from Ne­vada who just seven days ear­lier also was forced to ad­mit a ca­reer-shat­ter­ing af­fair, lives there.

“C Street,” San­ford said Wed­nes­day dur­ing his dif­fuse, cryptic, ut­terly ar­rest­ing con­fes­sional news con­fer­ence, is where con­gress­men faced “hard ques­tions.”

On any given day, the row­house at 133 C St. SE — well ap­pointed, with Amer­i­can flag fly­ing, white-and-green-trimmed win­dows and a pleas­ant gar­den — fills with talk of power and the Lord. At least five con­gress­men live there, qui­etly rent­ing up­stairs rooms from an or­ga­ni­za­tion af­fil­i­ated with “the Fel­low­ship,” the ob­ses­sively se­cre­tive Arlington spir­i­tual group that or­ga­nizes the Na­tional Day of Prayer break­fast, an event rou­tinely at­tended by le­gions of top gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. Other politi­cians come to the house for group spir­i­tu­al­ity ses-

sions, prayer meet­ings or to sim­ply share their trou­bles.

The house pulsed with back­stage in­trigue, in the days and months be­fore the San­ford and En­sign scan­dals — dubbed “two light­ning strikes” by a high-rank­ing con­gres­sional source. First, at least one res­i­dent learned of both the San­ford and En­sign af­fairs and tried to talk each politi­cian into end­ing his phi­lan­der­ing, a source close to the con­gress­man said. Then the house drama es­ca­lated. It was then that Doug Hamp­ton, the hus­band of En­sign’s mis­tress, en­dured an emo­tional meet­ing with Sen. Tom Coburn, who lives there, ac­cord­ing to the source. The topic was for­give­ness.

“He was try­ing to be a peace­maker,” the source said of Coburn, a Repub­li­can from Ok­la­homa.

Al­though San­ford vis­ited the house, there is no in­di­ca­tion that he was ever a res­i­dent; when he was in Congress from 1995 to 2000, the par­si­mo­nious law­maker was fa­mous for for­go­ing his hous­ing al­lowance and bunk­ing in his Capi­tol Hill of­fice. But it is not un­com­mon for res­i­dents to in­vite fel­low con­gress­men to the home for spir­i­tual bond­ing. There, San­ford en­joyed a kind of alum­nus sta­tus. Richard Carver, pres­i­dent of the Fel­low­ship Foun­da­tion, said, “I don’t think it’s in­tended to have some­one from South Carolina get coun­sel­ing there.” But he posited that San­ford turned to C Street “be­cause he built a re­la­tion­ship with peo­ple who live in the house.”

Peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the house say the down­stairs is gen­er­ally used for meals and prayer meet­ings. Vol­un­teers help fa­cil­i­tate prayer meet- ings, they said. Res­i­dents in­clude Reps. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), Bart Stu­pak (D-Mich.) and Zach Wamp (RTenn.), En­sign and Coburn. None of the con­gress­men agreed to be in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle. But as­so­ci­ates of some of En­sign’s house­mates pri­vately wor­ried that the other res­i­dents would be tarred by the scan­dals.

“That two fell doesn’t prove that the house — which has seen many mem­bers of Congress pass through and en­gage in Bi­ble stud­ies — doesn’t mean that the house has failed,” said con­ser­va­tive colum­nist Cal Thomas, who once spoke to a group of in­terns at the house. “If that was the stan­dard, the whole Congress would be cor­rupt.”

The house’s res­i­dents mostly ad­here to a code of si­lence about the place, sel­dom dis­cussing it pub­licly, lend­ing an aura of mys­tery to what hap­pens in­side and a hint of con­spir­a­to­rial spec­u­la­tion. In a town where every­one talks about ev­ery­thing, the res­i­dents have man­aged largely to keep such a refuge to them­selves and their friends. On a street mostly oc­cu­pied by Hill staffers and pro­fes­sion­als in their 20s and early 30s, some of the Demo­cratic staffers nick­named it “the Prayer House.” On sum­mer evenings, the con­gress­men would some­times sit out front smok­ing cigars and chat­ting, but what went on in­side stayed in­side.

The house, which is as­sessed at $1.84 mil­lion, is reg­is­tered to a lit­tle-known or­ga­ni­za­tion called Youth With a Mis­sion of Wash­ing­ton DC. Carver, who said his Fel­low­ship group is af­fil­i­ated with the house, said that he has never heard of Youth With a Mis­sion of Wash­ing­ton DC and that he did not have a phone num­ber for it. Later, he said, he spoke with some­one who “at one time was in­volved with the house” and had “heard sec­ond­hand” that the or­ga­ni­za­tion that runs the house is “sub­scrib­ing to the no-com­ment.”

“They’ve done a very good job of cre­at­ing an at­mos­phere as sep­a­rated as it can pos­si­bly be from the ten­sions of the city . . . a spir­i­tual re­treat from the ca­coph­ony and dis­trac­tion of Capi­tol Hill,” said the Rev. Rob Schenck, who has at­tended prayer meet­ings at the house. “But I’ve ques­tioned in the past the highly se­cre­tive na­ture of it. The se­cre­tive na­ture of it has come off as a bit too clever. It places them at risk of sus­pi­cion about their mo­tives. It hasn’t served them well.”

All of which made San­ford’s na­tion­ally tele­vised men­tion of “what we called C Street” the more en­tic­ing.

“It was a, be­lieve it or not, a Chris­tian Bi­ble study,” he said, de­part­ing from the tight-lipped ways of the house’s denizens.

Schenck’s group, Faith and Action, op­er­ates a less-shrouded Capi­tol Hill home used for Bi­ble study — but not as a res­i­dence for con­gress­men — a haven he says was in­spired by the house on C Street. He won­ders whether the C Street house might have been too “ac­com­mo­dat­ing” about the foibles, the sins, of its res­i­dents and friends. All in the name of at­tract­ing the fa­mous and the pow­er­ful to its min­istries.

“We’re tempted,” Schenck said, “to make room for their weak­nesses.” Re­searcher Alice Crites con­trib­uted to this re­port.


Men­tioned dur­ing Gov. Mark San­ford’s news con­fer­ence as the site of “a Chris­tian Bi­ble study,” this home in South­east is the res­i­dence of con­gress­men in­clud­ing Sen. John En­sign, who last week ad­mit­ted to an af­fair.

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