Image: Former Rep. Christopher Lee
Christopher Lee's website and gawker.com
The photo of a shirtless Christopher Lee hastened his departure from Congress.
NBC News and msnbc.com
updated 2/14/2011 10:06:46 AM ET 2011-02-14T15:06:46

A married congressman from upstate New York resigned suddenly Wednesday after a scandal erupted over emails and a shirtless photo supposedly sent to a woman in response to a Craigslist dating ad.

Republican Christopher Lee had just begun his second term representing New York's 26th District. Just hours after the scandal broke on Gawker.com, Lee announced that he was quitting Congress, and a clerk read his letter of resignation on the House floor.

Slideshow: Sex scandals and elected officials (on this page)

In a statement, Lee said:

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"It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Western New York. I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness.

"The challenges we face in Western New York and across the country are too serious for me to allow this distraction to continue, and so I am announcing that I have resigned my seat in Congress effective immediately."

Video: Congressman quits after shirtless pic surfaces (on this page)

The controversy erupted when Gawker reported that a Maryland woman had sent in emails supposedly written by Lee in response to a dating ad that she had placed on Craigslist. Gawker said the ad had asked: "Will someone prove to me not all CL men look like toads?"

In response came emails from a man representing himself as a divorced lobbyist younger than Lee's actual age of 46. The woman responded.

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Gawker published a shirtless photo that he had taken of himself, flexing his muscles. One of the emails described him as a "fit fun classy guy." Gawker said the emails were sent from a Gmail account that Lee confirmed to be his own.

Gawker said the flirting ended when the woman concluded after an online search that Lee had lied. She then sent the material to Gawker.

Lee and his wife, Michele, live in Amherst, N.Y. They have one son.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner told NBC News that it was Lee's decision to resign.

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Lee served on the House Ways and Means Committee and was active on economic revitalization issues. He has a business background stemming from his family's manufacturing business.

Lee had been involved with flight safety issues since a plane crashed into a house in Clarence, part of his Buffalo-area district, on Feb. 12, 1009, killing 49 people aboard the plane and the home's owner.

Video: New York Rep. resigns over shirtless picture (on this page)

Scott Maurer, whose daughter was one of those who died in the crash, was at a news conference on flight safety with Lee in Washington on Tuesday. He said Lee was "a hard worker and a good guy" who "loved and cared for" his community.

"He was 100 percent professional with us, 100 percent supportive and seriously was considerate and concerned with aviation safety, so to hear that he's resigned is a huge loss of support for our efforts," Maurer said Wednesday night.

His exit triggers a special election, which Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo must call. Lee was first elected in 2008 with 55 percent of the vote, and GOP presidential candidate John McCain won the district — New York's 26th — in 2008 with 52 percent. Lee was reelected in 2010 with 74 percent of the vote.

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The 26th District covers all or part of seven counties, including suburbs of Buffalo and Rochester. It has been a solidly Republican district.

Lee's resignation comes almost a year after Democrat Eric Massa resigned his seat in western New York's 29th Congressional District amid an investigation into whether he sexually harassed male staffers.

NBC News' Domenico Montanaro, Shawna Thomas and Kelly O'Donnell, msnbc.com's Carrie Dann, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2013 msnbc.com  Reprints

Video: Congressman quits after shirtless pic surfaces

  1. Closed captioning of: Congressman quits after shirtless pic surfaces

    >>> we'll begin with that photo scandal that led to the resignation of chris lee . kelly o'donnell has the details. kelly, good morning to you.

    >> good morning. sudden is the word. what's so stunning about this is how fast it all unfolded. from the time of the revelation of the scandal to resignation was just a few hours. the former congressman is a former businessman, considered an up and coming conservative. he said that he wanted to leave office so that his actions would not be a distraction. this is the image, shirtless and flexing, that tanked the political career of chris lee , a conservative republican congressman from western new york .

    >> we're here to get something done and that's what it's about.

    >> reporter: his stunning message was read by a clerk on the house floor.

    >> i hereby give notice of my resignation from the united states house of representatives , effective 5:00 p.m . eastern standard time wednesday february 9th , 2011 .

    >> reporter: a lightning-fast fall for the married father just sworn in for a second term last month.

    >> mr. lee is recognized.

    >> reporter: lee took part in a house hearing just hours before quitting congress.

    >> why i think congress gets such a bad name is we don't listen to the american people . hello, i'm chris lee . i have the great privilege of representing new york's 26th congressional district .

    >> reporter: he was even given the job of delivering the republican address last spring.

    >> i've been in congress now 16 months, but it doesn't take that long to figure out that washington does more talking than listening.

    >> reporter: congressman lee was exposed wednesday by the gossip website gawker.com. their story claimed lee had been seeking women through craigslist.

    >> he told her he was divorced and dating. he said he'd gone on dates with a woman from craigslist before.

    >> reporter: the site also published e-mails that lee wrote to a woman. i'm a fit, fun, classy guy. live in capitol hill area. the 46-year-old congressman described himself as a 39-year-old lobbyist, adding i promise not to disappoint. the woman told gawker after she and lee exchanged dozens of e-mails she googled his name and then discovered lee was a married member of congress, not a divorced lobbyist.

    >> she was outraged that he lied to her. when she realized he'd lie about several elements of who he was, how old he was, that he was married, that's when she cut off contact.

    >> reporter: lee released a written apology saying he had made profound mistakes. i regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. i deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. and in that written apology, just two paragraphs, he didn't address any of the specifics of the photo or those alleged contacts with women. he simply got out. ironically, one of the pieces of legislation he was working on while here was dealing with how to help students be careful in how they perceive and deal with things on the internet to protect them from perhaps putting themselves in a difficult situation. meredith?

    >> thank you very much.

Photos: Sex scandals and elected officials

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  1. David Wu

    Oregon Democratic Congressman David Wu speaks after a luncheon in Hillsboro, Ore, March, 7, 2011. Wu announced his resignation on July 24, 2011, amid political fallout from an 18-year-old woman's allegations she had an unwanted sexual encounter with him. The seven-term congressman was the subject of news stories of unusual behavior earlier in the year and several of his staff had resigned. (Don Ryan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Anthony Weiner

    Rep. Anthony Weiner speaks during a press conference at a hotel in New York on June 6, 2011, where he admitted that he had communicated with women online before and after his marriage and sent them explicit photos. (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Arnold Schwarzenegger

    Following the announcement of the couple's separation in 2011, Schwarzenegger said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times that he fathered a child with a member of his household staff. In the photo, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver greet supporters before he is sworn in for second term on January 5, 2007 in Sacramento, Calif. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images file) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Chris Lee

    Left: House Speaker John Boehner, left, shakes hands with Rep. Chris Lee, alongside members of Lee's family during a mock swearing-in ceremony on Capitol Hill on Jan. 5, 2011. His wife, Michele, holds the bible and his son Johnathan, leans against his dad. Lee abruptly resigned his seat on Feb. 9, after a gossip web site, Gawker, reported that Lee had sent a shirtless photo of himself to a woman he met on Craigslist (right). Gawker.com printed a series of e-mails which the lawmaker apparently had exchanged with the woman, who asked not to be identified. (AP, Gawker) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Mark Sanford

    After going AWOL for seven days, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford admitted on June 24, 2009 that he'd secretly flown to Argentina to visit a woman with whom he'd been having an affair. The married politician, who’s also a father of four, said he’d known the woman for eight years. "What I did was wrong. Period," he said. (Davis Turner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. John Ensign

    On June 16, 2009, Sen. John Ensign announced that he had engaged in an extramarital affair with a campaign staffer who was then employed as one of his top aides. The senator said he disclosed the relationship after an attorney for the woman’s husband made "exorbitant demands for cash and other financial benefits." (Isaac Brekken / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. John Edwards

    In this image taken from video and released by ABC News, Bob Woodruff interviews John Edwards Friday, Aug. 8, 2008 in Chapel Hill, N.C. The former North Carolina senator, who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004, confessed to ABC News that he had lied repeatedly about the affair with 42-year-old Rielle Hunter.

    At the time, he denied fathering a baby with Hunter, but on Jan. 21, 2009, he released a statement exclusively to NBC News admitting that was was indeed the father of Francis Quinn Hunter. (ABC News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Eliot Spitzer

    New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, addresses reporters with his wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, at his office in New York, apologizing for a "private matter" but making no reference to a March 10, 2008, New York Times report linking him to a prostitution ring. Spitzer resigned later that week. (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Larry Craig

    Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after being arrested in June 2007 in a Minneapolis airport restroom. The undercover officer who arrested him said Craig tapped his feet and swiped his hand under a stall divider in a way that signaled he wanted sex. Craig appealed, arguing that the law is invalid. He insisted that his actions were misconstrued and that he is not gay. He said he pleaded guilty in hopes of resolving the matter quietly (Troy Maben / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. David Vitter

    Sen. David Vitter, R-La., acknowledged in July 2007 that his Washington phone number was among those called several years before by an escort service. The admission came after Hustler magazine told the senator that his telephone number was linked to the service. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Antonio Villaraigosa

    Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, walks with Mirthala Salinas, then a reporter for Telemundo 52, on the north steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento in June 2006. Villaraigosa later acknowledged he was involved in a romantic relationship with Salinas. (Robert Durell / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Mark Foley

    Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., abruptly resigned in September 2006 after reports that he sent sexual messages to teenage male congressional pages. The Foley scandal helped Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives in the November 2006 elections. (Lawrence Jackson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. James McGreevey

    Dina Matos McGreevey stands next to her husband, Gov. James McGreevey, a Democrat, as he announces his resignation during a 2004 news conference in Trenton, N.J. McGreevey admitted he is homosexual and had an extramarital affair with another man, Golan Cipel, pictured right. McGreevey later wrote a book, "The Confession," about his life; Dina Matos McGreevey also later wrote a book, "Silent Partner," about their marriage. (AP photos) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Jack Ryan

    Jack Ryan, a Republican, dropped out of the 2004 Senate race in Illinois when his wife, TV actress Jeri Lynn Ryan, filed divorce papers that alleged he had taken her to "bizarre clubs" and asked her to have sex in front of other people. Ryan denied that but acknowledged they went to one avant-garde club in Paris where they both felt creepy. Ryan's Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, easily won the Illinois seat. (Stephen J. Carrera / ASSOCIATED PRESS) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Bob Livingston

    Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., was on the verge of becoming House speaker in 1998 when he acknowledged straying in his marriage. He resigned from Congress a couple of months later. (Khue Bui / AP file) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Bill Clinton

    President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, gave evasive and misleading testimony under oath and publicly denied having sexual relations with former intern Monica Lewinsky, only to be forced into a humiliating reversal. He was impeached by the House and then acquitted in a 1999 Senate trial. (APTV file) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Bob Packwood

    Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., resigned in 1995 amid allegations he made unwanted sexual advances to 17 female employees and colleagues, solicited jobs from lobbyists for his former wife, and altered his personal diaries to obstruct an ethics investigation. (Nathaniel Harari / Congressional Quarterly/Getty Im) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Barney Frank

    Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., was reprimanded by the House in 1989 for using his influence on behalf of male prostitute Stephen Gobie. Frank admitted paying Gobie for sex, hiring him with his own money as an aide and writing a letter on his behalf. Frank faced constituents at a meeting until they ran out of questions, acknowledging, "I did not handle the pressures of having a public life, of being a closeted gay man, nearly as well as I should have." He has won re-election ever since. (Terry Ashe / Time Life Pictures - Getty Image) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Gary Hart

    Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., was a front-runner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination when The Miami Herald reported he'd spent a night and a day with a young woman while his wife was away. Hart, who had challenged the press to check on rumors of philandering, initially denounced the report. But his liaison with Donna Rice, who had been photographed sitting on his lap near a yacht named "Monkey Business," sank his campaign. (Steve Liss / Time Life Pictures via Getty Ima) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Dan Crane

    Rep. Dan Crane, R-Ill., left, cries as he talks to reporters in 1983. Crane said he was sorry he hurt his family by having an affair with a 17-year-old congressional page. Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass., right, speaks to reporters on the steps of the Capitol. The House ethics committee cited Studds and Crane for misconduct for sexual activity with teen pages. (AP file photos) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Wilbur D. Mills

    Rep. Wilbur D. Mills, D-Ark., stands with Fanne Foxe, an exotic dancer. Mills sparked controversy in 1974 when police in Washington stopped his car for not having its headlights on. Although Mills was not driving, he was drunk, and Foxe jumped out of the car and into the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial. The episode caused Mills' downfall. (AP file) Back to slideshow navigation
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