Ensign resigns Senate seat amidst ethics probe

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Nearly two months after Dr. John Ensign said he would not run for re-election in 2012, the Nevada senator resigned his seat May 3 over an ethics investigation stemming from an affair with a campaign aide.

By resigning, Dr. Ensign avoids possible prosecution by the Senate Ethics Committee, which had appointed a special counsel to investigate whether the senator had violated ethics rules and federal law during his affair with a former campaign aide in 2009. He was also accused of helping the woman's husband get lobbying work.

At a March 7 news conference, the Senate's only veterinarian said he would not seek a third term in the Senate to protect his family from what he predicted would have been a "very ugly" campaign (see JAVMA, April 15, 2011).

Yet when it became clear the investigation had intensified, Dr. Ensign announced he would resign his office, effective May 3 when the Senate returned from recess.

"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," Dr. Ensign said in a statement issued April 21.

"I am gratified that after extended investigations both the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission saw no grounds on which to charge me with improper conduct," he continued. "I was hopeful that, with the closure of these investigations against me the wear and tear on my family and me would soon be over. This was not the case.

"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."

Dr. Ensign received his DVM degree from Colorado State University in 1985 and opened the first 24-hour animal hospital in Las Vegas. He served in the House of Representatives from 1995-1999 and was elected to the Senate in 2000 and re-elected six years later. Dr. Ensign is one of only three veterinarians ever elected to the Senate.