Chris Lee's Speedy Exit Differs from Previous Sex Scandals - But Will It Save Him from Infamy?

Rep. Christopher Lee appears shirtless in a photograph he reportedly sent to a woman he met on Craigslist. gawker.com

Rep. Christopher Lee appears shirtless in a photograph he reportedly sent to a woman he met on Craigslist.
gawker.com
Perhaps signaling a new path of action for scandal-ridden politicians, New York Rep. Chris Lee resigned from Congress on Wednesday just hours following allegations online that he had been soliciting an extra-marital relationship on Craigslist. Possibly hoping to sidestep further damage to his image - or stave off the discovery of further indiscretions - Lee swiftly stepped down, apologized, and admitted to "profound mistakes."

Gawker reported on Wednesday that Lee, a second-term Republican congressman from upstate New York, sent topless pictures to a 34-year-old woman who placed an ad in the "Women for Men" section of Craigslist. Gawker also published excerpts of alleged e-mail exchanges between the two, in which Lee described himself as a "divorced" "lobbyist" and a "fit fun classy guy." (Lee is married.)

GOP Congressman Christopher Lee Resigns Over Craigslist Scandal

Unlike many a scandal-plagued congressman before him, however, Lee resigned from Congress almost immediately after the indiscretions had been reported, opting to minimize the media firestorm - and resulting personal damage. "I have to work this out with my wife," he told Fox News.

"It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Western New York," Lee said in a statement released Wednesday. "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."

Lee's rapid resignation denotes a departure from the behavior of a number of his scandal-ridden congressional predecessors, many of whom attempted to wait out the bad press of reported sex scandals - some successfully.

Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, admitted to guilt of a "very serious sin" in 2007, after his phone number was found among those associated with an escort service operated by the so-called "D.C. Madam." But after going on a so-called "apology tour" throughout the state of Louisiana, Vitter was re-elected in 2010.

(CBS News political correspondent Marc Ambinder discusses the issue in the video at left.)

Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign faced similar a situation after it was revealed, in 2009, that he had been having an affair with his former campaign treasurer. Ensign is currently the subject of a special investigation as a result of the affair, but he remains in office - and told Politico recently that his re-election campaign was proceeding "full speed ahead."

In the age of fast-paced online reporting, however, surviving a political scandal requires increased willingness to endure criticism, mockery, and personal attacks.

"By nightfall Wednesday... Lee was no longer a congressman, not even a human being with tragic weaknesses, but merely a target in the biggest firing range ever invented by mankind, the Internet," writes Jerry Zremski in the Buffalo News. "That was an astonishingly quick end to scandal in a city known for scandal."

Lee is not alone in his decision to resign quickly: former Indiana Rep. Mark Souder, a Republican known for his strong stance on conservative family values, stepped down on May 18, 2010, the same day news broke publicly that he had been having an affair with a staffer. (Republican leadership had apparently been notified of the affair in the days leading up to his resignation.)

Former Democratic New York Governor Eliot Spitzer waited only a few days before resigning after it was discovered in 2008 that he had been associated with a high-priced prostitution ring under investigation by the federal government. And New York Rep. Eric Massa, also a Democrat, resigned last March just two days after Politico reported that he was under investigation by the House ethics committee for having sexually harassed a male staffer.

Zremski points out that Lee, somewhat ironically, had warned his constituents about the "the dangers and unknowns associated with a medium that is growing by several billion web pages per day."

"Responding to what may seem like a friendly e-mail or an appealing marketing offer can have serious consequences," he wrote in June 2009 a column in the Tonawanda News. "Private information and images can so easily be transmitted to friends and strangers alike."

Comments

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Watch Now

New Android App

For your Android phone and tablet, download the FREE redesigned app, featuring CBSN, live 24/7 news.

Download
The all new
CBS News App for Android® for iPad® for iPhone®
Fully redesigned. Featuring CBSN, 24/7 live news. Get the App