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Jeff Ashton, the state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties, admitted Sunday that he signed up for the Ashley Madison online-dating website but said he never had an affair as a result.
“While I indulged my curiosity about the site, it never went beyond that,” Ashton said at a news conference at an Orange County hotel, at which he apologized for his actions. “These were incredibly stupid choices.”
But Ashton added, “no laws have been broken” in his use of the website, which has gained more attention in recent days after it was hacked and information about clients became public.
Ashton said that while he did occasionally visit the site while in his office, he signed in through a public Wi-Fi network on his personal laptop and did not use government equipment to access the site.
“As embarrassed as I am about what I did, I did not commit a crime,” Ashton said.
According to its website, “Ashley Madison is the world’s largest website for married men and women looking to have a discreet affair.”
While the county has a content filter to block inappropriate websites, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs has asked for a complete review of the county database “to be sure that no employee has used taxpayer time or resources to access this site,” county spokeswoman Doreen Overstreet said.
Ashton insisted that the “bad, childish, stupid error” was a personal one and would not affect his work as a state attorney, a position he has held since defeating his former boss and fellow Democrat, Lawson Lamar, in an open primary in 2012 after gaining notice as the prosecutor in the Casey Anthony murder trial.
He responded to a question about whether he had opened himself up to blackmail by saying that he never met anyone from the site and “never allowed any of it to go far enough” to a point where he could be identified. He also refused to divulge the email address he used, saying that “I think I’ve humiliated myself enough for one weekend.”
“I ask for the public’s forgiveness for my shortcomings, but those choices have had absolutely no impact on the performance of my official duties,” he said. “I regret that I have given ammunition to those who seek to discredit the work our office does. I am proud of the work and what we have accomplished thus far. But today, I’m not very proud of myself.”
Ashton choked up several times during the news conference, usually when speaking about his family and the embarrassment it has caused them.
“If I could have spared (my family) what happened in the last 24 hours, I would do it,” Ashton said.
A spokeswoman for Ashton said he did not intend to answer further questions about his involvement with the site, saying he was currently involved in a murder trial.
“It is my intention tomorrow morning to appear at the office and be state attorney for the 9th Circuit,” Ashton said.
The news conference at the Wyndham Orlando Resort was called the day after a report on the website East Orlando Post linked Ashton’s name to the leak of data from the Ashley Madison website.
Ashley Madison is a brand of Avid Life Media Inc. The website has a membership spanning 46 countries, according to Avid Life Media. Other sites promoted on Avid Life’s website include CougarLife.com and EstablishedMen.com.
Account information and numerous other details on members of the “online personals & dating destination for casual encounters, married dating, discreet encounters and extramarital affairs” were released following a hack last week. According to the Associated Press, the recent hack of AshleyMadison.com revealed “at least two assistant U.S. attorneys, an information technology administrator in the White House’s support staff, a Justice Department investigator, a division chief, and a government hacker and counterterrorism employee at the Homeland Security Department.”
Staff writer Jessica Inman contributed to this report.