Sen. John Ensign had said resigning 'would be admitting guilt'
“If I was concerned about that, I would resign. That would make the most sense, because then it goes away.... Resigning would be admitting guilt, and I did not do the things that they're saying.”
But that was in March. On Thursday the junior senator from Nevada — who a few years ago strongly suggested that former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) resign in the wake of his arrest in an airport bathroom sex scandal — announced that he would give up the office he had held for 11 years. This does not mean, Ensign explained in a statement, that he’s done anything wrong, at least as far as the law is concerned.
“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," he said. "For my family and me, this continued personal cost is simply too great.” (Entire statement available on the jump.)
Ensign was referring to the efforts of the Senate Ethics Committee, which had named a special counsel to investigate whether Ensign violated ethics rules and federal law after his affair with Cynthia Hampton, the wife of Doug Hampton, who was then his top aide. Ensign's wealthy parents wrote the Hamptons a $96,000 check after they left his staff.
Critics have called the payment an improper contribution; the Ensigns called it a gift. The senator noted that the Federal Election Commission and Justice Department have decided not to pursue charges in the matter.
Ensign, a social conservative and once a rising star in the GOP, has repeatedly apologized for the affair but also has defended other actions, which included helping Doug Hampton find work with firms that lobbied his office. At a televised news conference announcing the affair in June 2009, Ensign said: “It's absolutely the worst thing I have ever done in my life. If there was ever anything that I could take back in my life, this would be it.”
For more than a year, he kept insisting that he wouldn’t resign, even when he announced in March that he would not seek reelection. In that news conference, Ensign had this to say: “There are consequences to sin, and when you're in a leadership role, those consequences can affect a lot of other people.”
Ensign’s resignation is effective May 3. Here, as prepared by his office, is his statement announcing his resignation:
It is with tremendous sadness that I officially hand over the Senate seat that I have held for eleven years. The turbulence of these last few years is greatly surpassed by the incredible privilege that I feel to have been entrusted to serve the people of Nevada. I can honestly say that being a United States Senator has been the honor of my life.
I know that my staff has been devoted to helping those in our state when they needed our assistance the most, and I hope that this will be the enduring legacy that we leave behind. As I close the door to this chapter of my life, I am left with memories that I will forever treasure. Traveling across our state during the years, I have heard incredible stories of strength, of struggle, and of compassion. I have met people who have forever changed me, and I can say that I will go through life a better person because of the struggle that I have been through and the support that I have received.
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.
I am gratified that, after extended investigations, both the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission saw no grounds on which to charge me with improper conduct. I was hopeful that, with the closure of these investigations against me the wear and tear on my family and me would soon be over. This was not the case.
As is its right, the Senate Ethics Committee is continuing its investigation of issues into which it has been inquiring for the past year and a half. Indeed, the Committee even decided recently to devote more resources to its investigation by hiring an outside counsel even though the issues have been viewed and reviewed by so many others.
I came to office with the pledge to make this country a better place, but that pledge does not end with my resignation. I will continue to fight for a better country and for a future that our children deserve. I cannot fully express what serving the people of Nevada has meant to me, but I will try to repay them for their trust for the rest of my life. “To the people of Nevada, I humbly say thank you for what you have given to me through the years. To my family, thank you for the support and love that you have shown me. To my staff, thank you for coming on this incredible journey with me and for standing by me despite the obstacles.
Note: Andrew Malcolm is on vacation.
-- Steve Padilla
Photos, from top: John Ensign (Credit: Getty Images); Ensign and his wife, Darlene, in March, when the senator announced he would not seek reelection (Credit: Associated Press).