WASHINGTON — — Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that former Rep. Christopher Lee, who resigned Wednesday after photos of his bare torso were posted on a website, made "his own decision" to resign and was not forced out.
The scandal surrounding Lee, a married second-term Republican congressman from western New York who allegedly used the personals site Craigslist to send photos of himself to at least one woman, unfolded as rapidly as any in congressional history. Just hours after the photos were made public, Lee submitted his resignation letter to Boehner.
Speaking to reporters, Boehner said he learned of the photos for the first time Wednesday afternoon.
"I think he made the right decision for himself and his family," Boehner said. "I believe members of Congress should be held to the highest ethical standards."
After Lee's resignation, speculation had swirled that the speaker had pushed Lee to quit, trying to minimize the impact of the scandal on his new majority.
Lee's abrupt announcement came just hours after the website Gawker published an exchange between Lee and an unnamed woman, which included a shirtless photo of the married 46-year-old. In the e-mails, apparently sent from Lee's personal e-mail using his real name, he claimed to be a 39-year-old divorced lobbyist.
"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," Lee said in a statement.
"It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Western New York," he continued. "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 statement was also read aloud in Congress.
In just the second month of the 112th Congress, Lee becomes the second representative to quit the House. California Rep. Jane Harman announced her intention to resign Tuesday to accept a leadership position with the Woodrow Wilson Institute in Washington.