If House Speaker John Boehner leaned on Rep. Chris Lee, R-N.Y. to resign his seat in a fast-breaking sex scandal Wednesday night, Boehner isn’t saying publicly.
As for whether Lee’s activities and previous sex scandals say something larger about the “culture” in Washington, Boehner, R-Ohio, said today: “I wouldn’t know.”
But Boehner insisted during a news conference that the 46-year-old Buffalo-area congressman’s decision to call it quits was “his own decision,” and that he believes it was the “right decision.”
It certainly was a quick decision. Lee’s departure from Congress came just hours after a published report Wednesday afternoon that he sent a photo of himself shirtless to a woman who is not his wife, along with flirtatious e-mails.
After submitting his resignation Wednesday night, Lee issued a statement saying he has made “profound mistakes” and would be seeking forgiveness from his family, staff, and constituents.
Lee is the second upstate New Yorker to quit Congress in less than a year, a development that could have an effect on the Empire State's upcoming redistricting process. New York will lose two House seats in the reapportionment that follows the 2010 census.
Former Rep. Eric Massa, D-N.Y., resigned last March after complaints surfaced from male staffers that they had been the targets of groping and sexual propositions by him. But to date, little word has emerged from an Ethics Committee review of whether then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders, or their aides, mishandled initial complaints of sexual harassment against Massa by male staffers.
It has been more than 10 months since the bipartisan committee announced on April 21 that it was creating a panel to, among other things, determine “whether members, officers, or employees of the House of Representatives may have failed to properly report or fully disclose allegations of misconduct.”
The Ethics Committee did not return a call today for comment on the status of that review, which has involved interviews of top House Democratic leaders, including Pelosi and now-Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Quizzed about the role he may have played in facilitating Lee’s lightning-quick career move, Boehner today offered that he had learned about the e-mail scandal sometime on Wednesday afternoon, adding: “And then it was a little after 6 [p.m.] I heard he had resigned.”
“Congressman Lee made his own decision that he thought was in his best interests [and] the interests of his family,” Boehner said. “I think he made the right decision for himself and his family.
Asked about reports that he warned Lee and several other junior lawmakers last summer about their late-night partying and associations with female lobbyists, Boehner demurred. His conversations with members are private and will remain that way.
Pressed, Boehner did say, “I believe that members of Congress should be held to the highest ethical standard. That’s what the American people expect.”