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Congressman resigns amid Craigslist scandal

A married congressman from upstate New York resigns suddenly amid a scandal over emails and a shirtless photo supposedly sent in response to a Craigslist dating ad.
The photo of a shirtless Christopher Lee hastened his departure from Congress.
The photo of a shirtless Christopher Lee hastened his departure from Congress.Christopher Lee's website and gawker.com
/ Source: NBC News and msnbc.com

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 Lee announced that he was quitting Congress, and a clerk read his letter of resignation on the House floor.

A photographic retrospective of embarrassing episodes.

In a statement, Lee said:

"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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.