- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2011

Sen. John Ensign, a Nevada Republican mired in an ethics investigation stemming from a sex and lobbying scandal, said Monday that he won’t seek re-election in 2012.

The two-term senator said stepping down was “the most difficult decision that I have ever made” but that the investigation had “zero to do with any of this.”

“At this point in my life I have to put my family first,” said Mr. Ensign during a Las Vegas news conference with his wife, Darlene, by his side. “As you all know campaigns are ugly enough today, and this campaign would be exceptionally ugly.”

Mr. Ensign, 52, admitted in 2009 to having an extramarital affair with Cynthia Hampton, a member of his campaign staff at the time. The senator is accused of helping the aide’s husband, Doug Hampton, set up as a lobbyist after he found out about the affair.

The Senate’s ethics panel is investigating the matter. Federal law bars former Senate aides from lobbying in the Senate for a year after they leave their congressional jobs.

The Justice Department previously dropped a criminal investigation of Mr. Ensign.

The senator’s wealthy parents also have said they paid their son’s former mistress and her family almost $96,000, saying that the gift was part of a pattern of financial largesse that they, the senator and his wife had given to the Hamptons’ over several years.

Mr. Ensign said he similarly has helped other members of his staff as they moved back into the private section. The Federal Election Commission has dismissed a complaint against him over the payment.

The senator, as he has done previously, apologized for having the affair but denied violating any Senate rules or breaking any laws.

“If I was concerned about that I would resign, and that would make the most sense because then it goes away,” he said. “Resigning would be admitting guilt, and I did not do the things that they’re saying.

“I made a mistake, I owned up to that mistake.”

Mr. Ensign, who had been rumored as a potential GOP presidential candidate when the scandal surfaced almost two years ago, said he will finish out his term “in a strong way.”

“It has truly been the greatest honor to serve as your United States senator,” he said. “I have tried very hard during that time to vote consistently with what I believe are the values of our state represent.”

His retirement sets up a potentially fierce political battle for the seat.

The Senate Democrats’ fundraising arm immediately put out a statement saying that the seat is now “ripe for a Democratic pick-up.”

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