Republican congressman with 'Downton Abbey' office resigns

By Susan Cornwell
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U.S. Republican lawmakers Lummis and Schock arrive at the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad

U.S. Republican lawmakers Cynthia Lummis (in red) and Aaron Schock (wearing a garland) arrive at the Gandhi Ashram in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad March 28, 2013. REUTERS/Amit Dave

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Aaron Schock, a Republican from Illinois whose Downton Abbey-styled office launched a series of media reports questioning his use of taxpayer dollars, announced on Tuesday that he is resigning from Congress.

The 33-year-old congressman from Peoria, Illinois had been a rising star in House Republican circles since he was elected in 2008. But he said in a statement that he was stepping down "with a heavy heart."

"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 said in a statement.

Schock did not notify any House Republican leaders before making his decision, a House Republican aide said.

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

Schock gained a following for posting flashy photos on social media of himself traveling, surfing and on other adventures. But he was hounded with questions after the Washington Post wrote in February about lavish decorations in his Capitol Hill office based on the television series "Downton Abbey."

"Bright red walls. A gold-colored wall sconce with black candles. A Federal-style bull's eye mirror with an eagle perched on top. And this is just the Illinois Republican's outer office," the Post wrote at the time.

Although staff told the Post that the interior design work had been done for free, the story prompted more investigations into Schock's spending habits, with several media outlets reporting that he failed to disclose some expenditures and had to repay others after improperly using taxpayer funds.

The newspaper USA Today called him one of the top travel spenders in the U.S. House, even out-flying the state's two senators.

Schock will resign as of March 31, his statement said, citing a statement from the lawmaker.

The senior senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, said: “I don’t know what the future holds for Aaron Schock but I was stunned that he resigned."

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner will hold a special election to fill Schock's seat. "This is a sad day for the people of Illinois and the 18th District," Rauner said in a statement.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Emily Stephenson, with Fiona Ortiz in Chicago; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Sandra Maler and Jonathan Oatis)