WASHINGTON — Faced with mounting serious legal questions, no path to resume the jet-set lifestyle and celebrity he craved and an erosion of local support, Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., announced Tuesday he will resign from Congress.
By stepping down on March 31, Schock ends an Office of Congressional Ethics inquiry and what was likely to be a probe by the House Ethics Committee. It does not automatically shut off inquiries from the Federal Election Commission or the Justice Department.
It is a remarkable and swift fall for Schock, 33, who until last month was considered a rising star in politics – in Illinois and on Capitol Hill. When the Peoria lawmaker came to Congress in 2009, he was the youngest member of the House.
With the help of social media — including a constant flow of pictures from his adventures on Instagram — Schock used his good looks and fit physique to turn himself into a brand. With his fundraising skills benefiting fellow Republicans, Schock secured a seat on the Ways and Means Committee and in the lower ranks of House GOP leadership.
Schock’s resignation comes as his legal and public relations team knew more grave revelations were coming and as the Chicago Sun-Times was conducting an investigation of his outsized mileage reimbursement claims.
More Schock investigations in the works
Motor vehicle records from the Illinois Secretary of State, obtained by the Sun-Times under the Freedom of Information Act, suggest that Schock billed taxpayers and his campaign funds for more miles than his 2010 Chevrolet utility vehicle was driven in the four years before he bought another SUV in 2014.
On Monday, the Sun-Times reported that Schock billed taxpayers for mileage on the $74,000 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe he was driving — with the vehicle paid for by one of his political committees last July.
Later on Tuesday afternoon, a Schock spokesman said in a statement that Schock repaid all the taxpayer-reimbursed mileage. The spokesman said he did not know the exact amount — though the check should be at least in the tens of thousands of dollars.
“In an effort to remove any questions and out of an abundance of caution, Congressman Schock has reimbursed all monies received for official mileage since his election to Congress,” the statement said.
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Schock’s woes started on Feb. 2, with the Washington Post story about his “Downton Abbey” office redecoration, which led to him reimbursing taxpayers $40,000 for the makeover.
After that, Schock came under intense scrutiny, with the Sun-Times, Politico and the Associated Press reporting almost daily about his questionable spending of campaign and taxpayer funds.
Earlier this month, the Sun-Times revealed that Schock used taxpayer money for a charter plane to fly him and others from Peoria to Chicago and back for a Bears game. The day after the story, Schock repaid taxpayers $1,237 for the trip.
The Sun-Times also reported that Schock took at least 10 of his House staffers on a $10,053 taxpayer-funded trip to New York last September, where most of them had few official duties — with his political director also on hand for the weekend.
Resignation a surprise
The resignation came as a surprise to Schock’s colleagues.
”Members who were with him in the gym this morning had no indication this was coming,” a source told the Sun-Times.
In the early days of the controversy, the well-liked Schock got the benefit of the doubt from his Downstate district. But in past weeks, the local papers wrote highly critical columns and editorials.
Schock said in a statement, “I do this with a heavy heart. Serving the people of the 18th District is the highest and greatest honor I have had in my life. I thank them for their faith in electing me and letting me represent their interests in Washington. I have given them my all over the last six years. I have traveled to all corners of the District to meet with the people I’ve been fortunate to be able to call my friends and neighbors.
“But the constant questions over the last six weeks have proven a great distraction that has made it too difficult for me to serve the people of the 18th District with the high standards that they deserve and which I have set for myself.”
Schock’s departure from the House on March 31 will trigger a special election later this year.
The district is solid GOP turf. State Sen. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap, is expected to announce on Wednesday he will run for the seat held for 14 years by his father, former Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., before being tapped by President Barack Obama to be his Transportation secretary.
Gov. Bruce Rauner said in a statement: “This is a sad day for the people of Illinois and the 18th District.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement: “The allegations against Congressman Schock are serious, raising questions about his expenditure of official funds and campaign funds. His resignation came as a surprise and reflects the gravity of his situation.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said in a statement: “During my time in Congress, I have come to know and respect Aaron Schock’s dedication to serving his constituents, his tireless advocacy for our country’s future, and the people in the 18th District. Aaron was constantly looking for ways to end partisan gridlock, never afraid to reach across the aisle to find real solutions for American families. I was saddened to learn of his resignation and wish him the best.”
Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., said in a statement: “I was saddened to hear about my colleague Aaron Schock’s resignation from Congress. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding his departure, he brought youth and energy to Congress and was dedicated to serving the needs of his constituents. I wish him only the very best in the future. My prayers are with him and his family.”
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider said in a statement: “Honesty and integrity are of utmost importance when serving the public. Today is an unfortunate day for the people of the 18th Congressional District, the State of Illinois, and the Illinois Republican Party.”
I’m told that Schock, a member of the GOP House leadership team — he was an assistant whip — did not give advance notice to the leaders.
Earlier this month, Schock hired lawyers to conduct an internal audit. He will leave Congress with likely big legal bills — but he still has $3,290,781 in his “Schock for Congress” campaign fund.