This one is far from over.
Rep. Aaron Schock announced Tuesday he will resign from Congress, but investigations into his questionable conduct should push on with full force. Too many of the congressman’s actions, brought to light in recent weeks by Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet and others, raise not just ethical concerns but serious legal issues.
To be clueless about appearances is one thing. To have violated federal laws, as Schock may have done, is something more.
An investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics will end when the Peoria Republican officially resigns on March 31. But the U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission can and should continue to dig. So, for that matter, should the media.
Schock resigned just one day after Sweet reported that he had billed taxpayers for mileage on a $74,000 Chevy Tahoe, a vehicle paid for by one of his political committees. And his resignation came just 12 hours after Politico raised questions as to why he had billed the government for 170,000 miles on that vehicle, though it had only 80,000 miles on its odometer when he finally sold it in July 2014.
This, of course, was the final straw. Schock could see it.
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When Schock decorated his Capitol Hill offices in the style of Downton Abbey, the congressman’s supporters could dismiss it as the tone-deaf move of a kid who might have forgotten he’s from Peoria. Even if ethical questions were raised about who paid the decorator.
And Schock’s real estate transactions, involving political donors seemingly bent on giving him sweet deals, were slightly complicated, creating room for deniability — nothing wrong here, folks, move along.
Even Schock’s rides on donors’ private planes for personal trips and showering staffers with free weekends in New York and concert tickets, had to be examined closely to determine where he may have broken a law and where he was just foolish.
But this apparent mileage scam? Heck, anybody who ever drove a car for work could figure that one out. If you say one thing and your odometer says something really different, you’re fired.
Everybody will now say Schock’s fall from grace is positively “Shakespearean” and everybody will be right. What a waste of a promising future.
Ten years ago, Aaron Schock, then 24 years old and already a state representative, was the boy wonder of Illinois politics. An occasional columnist for this paper at the time, Tom Roeser, declared Schock the “future of the GOP” and “mature beyond his years.” In no time at all, Roeser predicted, Schock would be elected to Congress.
But Roeser had been around. He wasn’t naïve. He ended his column with a prescient question: “Would Washington turn his young head?”
The best politicians possess two essential qualities — character and relatability. Schock, like many tumbling pols — we’re thinking Jesse Jackson Jr. — appears to have failed on both counts.
Hopping on a private plane on the taxpayers’ dime to catch a Bears game revealed a failure of character. Hobnobbing with royalty at Windsor Castle and dancing the tango in the streets of Buenos Aires revealed a failure of relatability. This was not Central Illinois.
We’re tempted to say Aaron Schock lost his way, but we’re not sure he ever knew his way. He first came to Washington in 2009, when he was just 26 years old, and confused it with a celebrity TV reality show.
On Tuesday, Schock quit the show. He would still be wise to lawyer up.