Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada, saying he wanted to spare his family the emotional “wear and tear” of an ethics inquiry into an extramarital affair, said he will resign his office effective May 3.
Ensign, 53, a veterinarian first elected to the Senate in 2000, said in March that he wouldn’t seek a third term next year. He made his resignation announcement yesterday on his Senate website.
He disclosed in June 2009 that he had had an affair with a campaign worker, Cindy Hampton, whose husband, Doug, was an aide on his Senate staff. The Justice Department said last December that Ensign was no longer a target of a probe into whether a severance payment he made to Cindy Hampton was an illegal campaign contribution.
“Senator Ensign has made the appropriate decision,” the Senate Ethics Committee, which had kept looking into allegations stemming from the matter, said in a statement from committee head Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, and the vice chairman, Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson.
The ethics panel signaled in February it was intensifying its inquiry by hiring an outside counsel to assist in the investigation, which could have led to public hearings. The committee will lose its jurisdiction over Ensign with his resignation. The ethics committee’s statement after the resignation said it had “worked diligently for 22 months on this matter and will complete its work in a timely fashion.”
Cost `Too Great'
On his website, Ensign said that “while I stand behind my firm belief that I have not violated any law, rule, or standard of conduct of the Senate, and I have fought to prove this publicly, I will not continue to subject my family, my constituents, or the Senate to any further rounds of investigation, depositions, drawn out proceedings, or especially public hearings. For my family and me, this continued personal cost is simply too great.”
After the senator acknowledged the affair, Ensign’s parents paid $96,000 to Cindy and Doug Hampton and two of their children. A lawyer for Ensign, Paul Coggins, said in July 2009 that the payment was made “out of concern for the well-being of long-time family friends during a difficult time.”
Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, said that “given his outrageous conduct, it is unbelievable Senator Ensign was allowed to linger for so long. At least the senator will finally be gone and Americans can put this latest politician-behaving-badly behind us.”
Ensign resigned his fourth-ranking post in the Senate Republican leadership after he confirmed the affair.
U.S. Representatives Dean Heller, a Republican, and Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, have already announced their candidacies for the Senate seat.
Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican, can name a successor to fill the seat through the end of Ensign’s term and may select Heller, making him the incumbent in next year’s election. Sandoval issued a statement saying “I respect the decision he has made” and thanking Ensign for his service.
Ensign served two terms in the U.S. House before losing a 1998 Senate race to incumbent Harry Reid, a Democrat, by fewer than 500 votes. He ran successfully for the Senate two years later and was re-elected in 2006.
Reid, now the Senate majority leader, said in a statement that he has “appreciated John’s partnership in working with me to address our state’s needs. He was a strong advocate for Nevada, and worked for many years to improve our state.”
Reid also said, “I know this is a difficult time for the family and I wish them all well as they work through it.”