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Sen. John Ensign. Win McNamee/Getty Images
In a press release on his website, Nevada's Republican Senator John Ensign announced that he will resign effective May 3. In the statement Ensign said:
"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."
Ensign's resignation comes amid the fallout from his affair with Cynthia Hampton a campaign staff member, who is married to Ensign's former senior aide, Doug Hampton.
Ensign had already said that he would not seek a third term in the Senate.
The Senate Ethics Committee is currently conducting an investigation into his handling of the affair. The Washington Post has a bit of detail on the investigation:
In 2008, when the affair became known to the other spouses, Ensign dismissed both Hamptons from his political and legislative payroll. Ensign's parents, wealthy casino magnates, paid the Hampton family $96,000 in what was labeled gift income for tax purposes, the precise amount legally permissible without triggering taxes.
In addition, Doug Hampton returned to Las Vegas and began working as a lobbyist for a consulting firm run by Ensign's top political advisers. Doug Hampton has alleged that Ensign helped him line up his first few lobbying clients — all donors to Ensign's political committees — and that the senator helped arrange meetings for Doug Hampton with Obama administration officials.
The Justice Department said it would not bring charges against Ensign, but an ethics investigation would have likely involved a public hearing.
"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," Ensign said in the statement.
Politico notes that Ensign's resignation means that Nevada's Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval can appoint a replacement. If Sandoval appointed Rep. Dean Heller to the seat, it would give "the congressman an upper hand as he pursues a full term in 2012."
Heller had already announced that he would challenge Ensign in the Republican primary.
Update at 7:41 p.m. ET: Quoting Republican operatives, The New York Times adds a bit more on the politics of filling Ensign's seat:
While party insiders said there was no guarantee that Mr. Heller would get the appointment, Mr. Heller would be in position to essentially run as an incumbent in 2012 and he could also skirt some of the politically charged votes expected to occur in the Republican controlled House over the coming months.