WASHINGTON - Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, a leading Republican mentioned as a potential presidential candidate, admitted Tuesday he had an extramarital affair with a former member of his campaign staff.
"I deeply regret and am very sorry for my actions," the conservative lawmaker said a statement to The Associated Press.
An aide in Ensign's office said the affair took place between December 2007 and August 2008 with a campaign staffer who was married to an employee in Ensign's Senate office. Neither has worked for the senator since May 2008. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the developments.
The aide declined to comment on whether Ensign would resign. Ensign scheduled a news conference in Las Vegas for later Tuesday. Ensign did not participate earlier Tuesday in a vote concerning the ailing travel industry, an unusual absence considering the topic's relevance in his home state.
"I know that I have deeply hurt and disappointed my wife, my children, my family, my friends, my staff and the people of Nevada who believed in me not just as a legislator but as a person," Ensign said.
Ensign's wife, Darlene, also released a statement about the affair.
"Since we found out last year we have worked through the situation and we have come to a reconciliation. This has been difficult on both families. With the help of our family and close friends our marriage has become stronger," Mrs. Ensign said.
The Ensigns have three children.
Ensign was first elected to the Senate in 2000 and has been an influential conservative voice within that chamber. Last year, his GOP colleagues picked him to serve as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, moving him to the No. 4 position in leadership. The committee coordinates the GOP's legislative efforts in the Senate. Previously, Ensign ran the Republican Senate campaign operations.
Last month, Ensign traveled to Iowa for a speech organized by a conservative advocacy group, sparking speculation that he had an interest in possibly running for president. Aides said the visit was about staking out a leadership position within the GOP.
Ensign has been a rising star among conservatives, speaking out against President Barack Obama's stimulus package, statehood for the District of Columbia and union-organizing legislation and in favor of gun owners' rights.