Nevada Sen. Ensign admits to affair

The senator reportedly had an affair with a campaign staffer; blackmail may be involved in the disclosure

Topics: John Ensign, War Room,

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., flew home Tuesday. He had to miss a vote on a bill that impacts Nevada to do it, but he had good reason for doing so: Ensign was back In Las Vegas so that he could hold a press conference at which he acknowledged having an extramarital affair, reportedly with a former campaign staffer.

“I deeply regret and am sorry for my actions,” Ensign said in a statement given to reporters. His wife, Darlene, is standing by him — in a statement of her own, she said, “With the help of our family and close friends our marriage has become stronger.” She added, “I love my husband.”

The affair went on from December 2007 until August 2008, and was with a woman who worked for the senator’s re-election campaign and his political action committee, the Washington Post reports. The woman’s husband worked in Ensign’s Senate office.

Politico reports that the affair began after Ensign separated from his wife, and that when the couple reconciled, he broke it off with the staffer — and gave her a severance package. But, the paper reports, the woman’s husband later asked for “a substantial sum of money.” This could explain the timing of the announcement, which came fairly suddenly and wasn’t made at the traditional time for breaking bad news — generally, a Friday afternoon, not a Tuesday.

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The immediate political impact of the news is unclear. Given the precedent set by, among others, Sens. David Vitter and Larry Craig, Ensign can probably keep his seat without too much trouble, assuming there’s no further fallout from the story. And at the press conference, he announced his intention to remain in the Senate. The senator had also been considered a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, something that now seems very unlikely.

At the very least, the revelation will prove embarrassing because of Ensign’s own history of moralizng. As David Weigel observes, while in the House, Ensign voted to impeach then-President Clinton. More recently, in a speech about same-sex marriage on the Senate floor, he declared, “Marriage is the cornerstone on which our society was founded. For those who say that the Constitution is so sacred that we cannot or should not adopt the Federal Marriage Amendment, I would simply point out that marriage, and the sanctity of that institution, predates the American Constitution and the founding of our nation. Marriage, as a social institution, predates every other institution on which ordered society in America has relied.”

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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