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Aaron Schock resignation: Did 'Downton Abbey' tastes do him in? (+video)

Rep. Aaron Schock (R) of Illinois announced Tuesday he is resigning amid questions over his spending habits, including an office inspired by 'Downton Abbey.'

Until recently the wunderkind of the Republican Party, Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois is about to be an ex-congressman.

Congressman Schock, still in his early 30s and already in his fourth term, announced Tuesday that he is resigning, effective March 31. Schock’s rise and fall have been fast and brutal. Not too long ago, he was known for his prodigious fundraising skill, his six-pack abs (featured on the cover of Men’s Health magazine), and office décor in the style of “Downton Abbey.”

Now he’s done, caught up in questions about his campaign spending and use of taxpayer dollars.

“Serving the people of the 18th District is the highest and greatest honor I have had in my life,” Schock said in a statement Tuesday.  

“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 added. 

On Monday, Politico reported that investigators from the Office of Congressional Ethics had been reaching out to individuals in Schock’s “political orbit,” calling it a possible first sign of an investigation.

Politico and the Chicago Sun Times have documented a high-flying lifestyle, some of it conducted at taxpayer expense. Among the reported infractions: He failed to disclose trips abroad, had a private pilot fly him to a Chicago Bears game, and reported the cost of a flight as a “software” purchase. Schock has repaid some of the costs, including $40,000 to the federal government for the Downton Abbey office décor.

Last week, conservative commentator Erick Erickson called on Schock to resign, saying he had “proven himself incapable of handling his own money, the money of his donors, and taxpayer money.”

When asked in a Politico interview last week if he thought he had broken any rules or federal laws, Schock seemed unsure. “I certainly hope not,” he said.

Schock had hired outside counsel, and a crisis communications firm, but on Tuesday morning, the news only got worse. The Chicago Tribune reported that a shell company linked to Schock had paid a political donor $300,000 last year for a commercial property in Peoria, then took out a $600,000 mortgage for the property from a local bank run by other donors.

On Tuesday afternoon, Schock announced he was resigning.

Colorful members of Congress come and go – the late Rep. James Traficant (D) of Ohio springs to mind – but there’s still a shock in Schock’s professional demise. He had clear political talent, and represented a new generation for a Republican Party eager to expand its reach into a younger electorate that leans Democratic. (Schock is the first member of Congress born in the 1980s.)

Some also saw the potential for Schock to go far as a serious legislator. He “could easily have chaired the powerful Ways and Means Committee and been the Paul Ryan of the 2020s, or – as his supporters often discussed with me – run for governor of Illinois someday,” says John Gizzi, chief political correspondent at Newsmax.

With his boyish looks and sense of style, he seemed a character straight from “House of Cards” or maybe “Veep.”

In a feature last month on Schock’s office that some observers believe led other news organizations to look into his spending habits, The Washington Post called him “one of the most media-savvy members of Congress, with an Instagram feed that features him surfing, hiking across glaciers, tangoing on the streets of Buenos Aires, and smiling next to duck-faced pop star Ariana Grande.”

Instead, Schock will soon be a private citizen. But we suspect we haven’t heard the last of him. 

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