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As spending scrutiny mounts, Rep. Aaron Schock resigns from Congress

Last Updated Mar 17, 2015 3:33 PM EDT

Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock announced his resignation from Congress on Tuesday, capping off several weeks of intense scrutiny of his use of taxpayer and campaign money.

"Today, I am announcing my resignation as a Member of the United States House of Representatives effective March 31," Schock, a Republican, said in a statement. "I do this with a heavy heart. Serving the people of the 18th District is the highest and greatest honor I have had in my life. I thank them for their faith in electing me and letting me represent their interests in Washington. I have given them my all over the last six years."

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U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock speaks to reporters before meetings with constituents after a week in which he faced twin scandals Friday, Feb. 6, 2015, in Peoria Ill.
AP

"I have traveled to all corners of the District to meet with the people I've been fortunate to be able to call my friends and neighbors," he added, "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 did not inform or consult his party's leadership about his decision to resign before it was announced.

"With this decision, Rep. Schock put the best interests of his constituents and the House first," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement on Tuesday. "I appreciate Aaron's years of service, and I wish him well in the future."

At 33 years old, Schock is among the youngest members of Congress, and he was once considered a rising star in the Republican Party. He'd proven to be a powerhouse fundraiser during his time on Capitol Hill, and he cultivated an active social media presence that provided a vivid counterpoint to some of Congress's more old-fashioned members.

Schock's Instagram account, for example, chronicled his adventurous, jet-setting lifestyle, showing the congressman rubbing elbows with celebrities and vacationing in foreign countries. But it may have also contributed to a reputation for extravagance, inviting the scrutiny that ultimately prompted his resignation from Congress.

Last month, the Washington Post was given a look at Schock's new office, which was painted a bright red, festooned with gilded knick-knacks, and reportedly inspired by the British period drama "Downton Abbey."

The Post reported that Schock received the design services for free, prompting a left-leaning ethics watchdog to file a complaint alleging an improper receipt of gifts by a public official. Schock later told ABC News he expected to receive a bill from the interior designer, and that he'd pay up.

Later that month, the same watchdog group filed a complaint against Schock after it was reported that he spent taxpayer and campaign money on private air travel. An Associated Press review found that Schock spent more than $40,000 on at least a dozen flights onboard private aircraft.

The Office of Congressional Ethics formally opened an investigation into Schock's spending habits on February 28.

The congressman also came under scrutiny after a report found that he'd sold his home in Peoria, Illinois, to a donor at a price far above the market value.

He also faced questions about his purchase and use of a vehicle in his home district. Schock bought a Chevrolet Tahoe in 2010, logging just over 81,000 miles on it before he sold it in 2014. He was reimbursed by the government and his campaign for over 170,000 miles driven, however, and his resignation came just hours after Politico asked his office about the roughly 90,000-mile discrepancy.

In 2014, when Schock sold his old Tahoe, he spent almost $75,000 of his campaign funds on a new Tahoe that he registered in his name.

Last week, when Politico asked Schock whether he ran afoul of any federal rules or laws in his spending, the congressman offered a tenuous response that underscored the toll taken by the swirling ethics woes.

"Well, I certainly hope not," Schock said. "I'm not an attorney."

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said Tuesday that he was "surprised" by Schock's decision to resign, but he added that the allegations against the congressman were "serious."

"His trademark in in politics is that he was a young boy," Durbin said. "And it turns out that, although he was clearly young, he needed some experience and some advice and some wisdom to make some important decisions apparently from what we've heard today."