POLITICS

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval To Appoint New Senator After Ensign Resigns

FILE -  In this Aug. 17, 2010 photo, U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., participates   in the Tahoe Summit at the Sand Harbor State Park near Incline Village, Nev.   Ensign announced he will resign amid an ethics investigation.  Ensign said Thursday, April 21, 2011,  he will send Vice President Joe Biden a letter Friday making the resignation official. He said he has not violated any laws or rules, but said he could no longer subject his family, friends and constituents to further investigations.  The Republican, who is under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee, announced in March that he would not pursue re-election.   (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)

FILE - In this Aug. 17, 2010 photo, U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., participates in the Tahoe Summit at the Sand Harbor State Park near Incline Village, Nev. Ensign announced he will resign amid an ethics investigation. Ensign said Thursday, April 21, 2011, he will send Vice President Joe Biden a letter Friday making the resignation official. He said he has not violated any laws or rules, but said he could no longer subject his family, friends and constituents to further investigations. The Republican, who is under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee, announced in March that he would not pursue re-election. (AP Photo/Cathleen Allison)  (AP2010)

Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada is turning in his official resignation letter Friday, a day after announcing he would step down amid a developing ethics probe. Now, Governor Brian Sandoval will appoint someone to serve the remainder of the term, which expires at the end of 2012.

Ensign, who admitted to an extramarital affair with a former staffer, said he feared the ongoing ethics probe would result in further "wear and tear" on himself and his family. 

Senate Ethics Committee named a special counsel in February to look into the matter, after the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission investigated and then dropped their cases.

"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," he said.

In his statement Ensign, who must leave office by May 3, said that he could no longer put up with the intense focus of the affair and the ethical issues.

"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.

Several Republican Party officials said Thursday they hoped Sandoval would appoint U.S. Rep. Dean Heller to Ensign's seat. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Choosing Heller or another Republican would give the party the advantage of incumbency in a highly competitive seat that could decide which party controls the Senate after next year's elections.

U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley and wealthy businessman Byron Georgiou have said they are candidates for the Democratic nomination.

Ensign announced in June 2009 that he had an extramarital affair with Cynthia Hampton, a former member of his campaign staff, and that he had helped her husband, Doug Hampton, a member of his Senate staff, obtain lobbying work with two Nevada companies.

Doug Hampton has been indicted for illegally lobbying the senator's staff. Federal law prohibits a former senior Senate aide from lobbying the Senate for one year after terminating employment.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Ethics Committee, and GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, the committee's vice chairman, said they will complete their investigation in a timely fashion.

"Senator Ensign has made the appropriate decision," the senators said in a statement Thursday.

Ensign announced in March he would not pursue re-election in 2012 to protect his family from campaign attacks involving his role in Doug Hampton's lobbying career. 

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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