By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent David Espo, Ap Special Correspondent – 38 mins ago
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Ensign of Nevada resigned his Republican leadership post Wednesday, one day after confessing marital infidelity. Aides refused to answer questions about records showing that a woman on his political payroll received a promotion and a pay raise around the time he said the affair began in late 2007. Nor would Ensign or aides respond to reports of an earlier affair, in 2002.
Ensign, 51, has said he intends to remain in the Senate.
The Nevada lawmaker is a member of the Christian ministry Promise Keepers and has championed causes pushed by the GOP's conservative religious base while seeking to raise his political profile for a possible presidential campaign.
He offered to resign as head of the Republican Policy Committee in a phone call with Sen. Mitch McConnell, the party leader.
"He's accepted responsibility for his actions and apologized to his family and constituents. He offered, and I accepted, his resignation as chairman of the Policy Committee," said McConnell, R-Ky.
The senator's fall from grace was a further blow for Republicans struggling to recover from recent election reversals as well as the political defection of moderate Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Ensign's announcement also added to an appearance of disarray for the party in Nevada, where GOP Gov. Jim Gibbons has been embroiled in nearly nonstop controversy throughout his term.
Ensign's position within the leadership was a reflection of his popularity among the rank-and-file, but not a single Republican senator came to his public defense in the first hours after his announcement.
At his news conference on Tuesday, Ensign said the affair he had last year was "the worst thing I have ever donbe in my life. If there was ever anything in my life that I could take back, this would be it."
The disclosure resurrected questions about a two-week period in 2002, when Ensign abruptly dropped from public view. A person familiar with that episode, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said Tuesday the senator told a close associate the absence followed an earlier affair.
Ensign's office issued a brief statement on Tuesday that said he had carried out a consensual affair from December 2007 through August 2008 with a "campaign staffer who worked at Ensign for Senate and Battleborn PAC from Dec. 2006 to May 2008. The campaign employee was married to an official Senate staffer who worked for Senator Ensign. As of May 2008 neither employee worked for Senator Ensign," it said.
Neither Ensign nor his aides would name the woman or her husband.
The Associated Press reviewed campaign and federal records and found information correlating roughly to a timeline of the affair, as outlined by Ensign's office. The AP is withholding the name of the woman found in those records because she has not been confirmed as having been involved with Ensign.
Federal records show a woman on Ensign's Battle Born Political Action Committee was paid $1,385.24 a month until she was made treasurer and her salary was doubled to $2,771.50 starting in February 2008.
The woman's salary also doubled at Ensign's campaign committee, where she was treasurer, beginning around the time the affair began. It went from $500 a month to $1,000 a month.
Records also show a man with the same last name received a monthly salary of $13,555 as an administrative assistant in Ensign's Senate office. He received a payment of $19,679 for his final month of employment, and was off the payroll on May 1, 2008, according to Senate records.
Additionally, the National Republican Senatorial Committee made twice-monthly payments, generally $500 apiece, to a man with the same last name. They began in March of last year and ended in August, when Ensign's office says the affair ended.
"This really doesn't help a Republican Party that has tried to run as a party of family values," said Chuck Muth, a self-described conservative-libertarian activist. "It absolutely makes the party look hugely hypocritical."
Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada-Reno, called Ensign's announcement "another shot in the gut to Nevada Republicans."
"The party is in disarray, and Ensign was at least a bright spot. He was respected," Herzik said.
Ensign declined during his announcement to mention the name of the campaign aide involved in the affair but described her and her husband as good friends.
"Our families were close," a weary-looking Ensign said. "That closeness put me into situations which led to my inappropriate behavior. We caused deep pain to both families and for that I am sorry."
Associated Press writers Brendan Riley in Nevada and Kevin Freking and Pete Yost in Washington contributed to this story.
And the Republican downward spiral continues - at least an embarrassing and unbelievably hypocritical sex scandal is more amusing than obstructionist tendencies, butthurt whining, and racist emails!