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Inside Politics

Ryan ponders Senate bid after sex club allegations

GOP leader express disappointment

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Senate candidate accused of sex club forays by ex-wife
start quoteI will let him make whatever decisions he has to make at this juncture.end quote
-- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist
Jack Ryan
Jeri Ryan
Bill Frist
Barack Obama

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican candidate Jack Ryan is "assessing his options" about whether to continue his bid for a U.S. Senate seat from Illinois amid allegations that he visited sex clubs with his then-wife, actress Jeri Ryan, an aide said Thursday.

"He's nowhere near making a decision about whether he's going to get out of the race," a senior Ryan campaign strategist told CNN. "But he's weighing his options based on the current environment."

Ryan, abruptly cancelled a planned Thursday trip to Capitol Hill, where Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, expressed his disappointment in the allegations and pointedly declined to offer words of support for Ryan.

Ryan, 44, a wealthy former investment banker, is going against Democrat Barack Obama for the seat being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Peter Fitzgerald -- a potentially key contest in the battle for control of the evenly divided Senate.

The four-year-old allegations were contained in court papers unsealed this week. In them, Jeri Ryan states her ex-husband took her to sex clubs and asked her to engage in sexual activity in front of other patrons.

Ryan denies the allegations, which were contained in court papers filed in a visitation dispute over the couple's son. Monday, he called the account "ridiculous" and insisted he has no plans to drop out of the Senate race.

Rumors about allegations in Ryans' divorce documents swirled during the state's Republican primary, but Ryan steadfastly refused to release the records.

Jeri Ryan, who starred in the TV shows "Boston Public" and "Star Trek: Voyager," said in a written statement that she now considers her ex-husband "a friend" and has "no doubt that he will make an excellent senator." But she has not disavowed the account she gave in court papers.

Frist called the allegations "disappointing" Thursday, and said Ryan must make any decision about his continued viability in the race himself.

Frist called Ryan "a committed public servant" for his work with disadvantaged children and teaching in inner-city public schools. "He expressed to me his deep commitment to be able to take that commitment and apply it at a statewide and a national level," said Frist, who met Ryan four years ago.

But the majority leader added, "The recent allegations are disappointing to me and I think disappointing to him and disappointing to his supporters. I have not talked to him since last Thursday before all of this was made public, so I don't know what his intentions are at this point, and I will let him make whatever decisions he has to make at this juncture."

Ryan aides strongly denied that their candidate is calling around to members of Congress to talk about an exit strategy for his campaign.

"The last people he'd call are the people on Capitol Hill who are trying to torpedo him," the senior strategist said. "He was never the choice of the establishment. We came out of nowhere and beat the establishment's ass, and they resent the fact. He's never been the establishment's pick."

Jeri Ryan said her then-husband took her on three "surprise trips" in the spring of 1998 to New Orleans, New York and Paris, during which he took her to sex clubs. She said she refused to go in the first and went into the second at his insistence.

In his legal response to her allegations, Jack Ryan said while he did arrange "romantic getaways" for the couple, they "did not include the type of activities she describes."

"We did go to one avant-garde nightclub in Paris, which was more than either one of us felt comfortable with. We left and vowed never to return," he said.

Both Ryans had objected to the release of details in the documents, but they opted not to appeal Monday's ruling from a judge in Los Angeles, where their divorce was filed.

CNN's John Mercurio and John Bisney contributed to this report.

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