WASHINGTON (WLS) -- Rep. Aaron Schock has announced he will resign March 31. Schock has been dogged for weeks regarding his use of taxpayer money, including the decorating of his office in a Downton Abbey theme.
Schock's resignation will leave Peoria without a congressman for several months until a special election can be called. It also leaves Schock himself in legal limbo, floating on allegations of congressional and campaign misspending.
Schock released the following statement Tuesday afternoon: "Today, I am announcing my resignation as a Member of the United States House of Representatives effective March 31st.
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. 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.
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.
I have always sought to do what's best for my constituents and I thank them for the opportunity to serve."
Although Congressman Schock says his resignation is effective two weeks from today, it would appear he has already called it quits. Congress is in session and Schock voted Monday, but not on Tuesday. He hasn't been seen - only heard from. His written resignation statement was put out to the public even before congressional leaders knew about it.
Schock's standards came into question last month when it was revealed his Capitol Hill office resembled something out of the British high-society TV series "Downton Abbey."
At that time, the 33-year-old congressman flippantly replied that he'd never been "a crusty old white guy."
"When I ran for office, well, I'm different. I came to Congress at 27. I'm not going to, when I go take a personal vacation, I don't sit on the beach, I go do active things. And so, I'm also not going to live in a cave. So when I post an Instagram photo with me with my friends, as Taylor Swift said, 'Haters are gonna hate,'" Schock said at the time.
Schock's vivid public appearances made him an easy target and social media photos Schock has posted of himself in travels around the world became the focus of a House Ethics investigation looking at potential travel spending infractions.
"Well, I'm a Downton Abbey fan, but that surprised me. I was really kinda concerned that was done - it seemed a bit extravagant for what we what we want our congressman to do," said Ted Mottaz, of Elmwood, Ill.
Mottaz, director of the Illinois Corn Grower Board, had a meeting scheduled Tuesday in Washington with Schock. But just like congressional leaders, he found out from reporters that Schock had quit.
"You know he kinda lost sight of what he was doing for us and our district," said Tod Mottaz, of Elmwood, Ill.
His stepping down will end a House Ethics investigation of how campaign and taxpayer funds were spent, including recent disclosures that he billed taxpayers for 170,000 miles on his personal car, even though the car only had been driven 80,000 miles, according to the odometer.
A Schock spokesperson said Tuesday night that all mileage expense reimbursements have now been repaid to the government. But does that take Schock out of the crosshairs of a federal criminal investigation?
"Technically that really doesn't let him off the hook. It might make it less appealing to bring a criminal charge against him is he's made good on it but look if you rob a bank -you can walk back in the next day and return the funds, but you still robbed a bank," ABC7 Legal Consultant Gil Soffer said.
Soffer said that neither resigning nor repayment necessarily give Congressman Schock any legal wiggle room if federal crimes were committed. He also sees similarities between Schock's affinity for putting himself on public display and the notorious self-promotion by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Now with Schock's resignation, the congressional investigation will end and the district will have a special election to replace Schock.
Under Illinois law, within five days of Schock's resignation, Gov. Bruce Rauner has to set a date for a special election. Also by law, the seat has to be filled within 120 days.
Even though it is an overwhelmingly Republican district, there will have to be a primary within that time frame to select party candidates. Even as all of these political questions are being answered, one part of the Aaron Schock puzzle is not clear: whether he faces criminal issues for his conduct while in office.
Congressman Schock serves the people of the 18th District and covers the central and western part of the state - including the cities of Jacksonville, Peoria, and Springfield - and is traditionally Republican.
His fellow Republicans have issued mostly written statements praising the Peoria congressman for his hard work, but many of Schock's colleagues have been stunned by the fast and furious flood of allegations against him over the last month or two.
Schock was a rapid riser, and his fall has come with extraordinary speed. Questions about a redecorated office and frequent globetrotting led to more serious allegations about questionable real estate deals with donors, taxpayer financed trips, and most recently, taxpayer reimbursements for mileage that have raised red flags.
"I suspect he sat down with advisers and the lay of the land looked very grim going forward. I think there's a lot more out there than what we've seen already," ABC7 Political Analyst Laura Washington said.
Schock has been all about fighting, but now he's resigning saying the "constant questions" have "made it too difficult for me to serve."
"I don't know all the facts. It's a very sad day for Illinois, it's a very unfortunate situation. I've heard a little bit in the press and read a few of the articles about what's going on. It's a very sad day in Illinois," Gov. Rauner said.
Senator Dick Durbin said: "The allegations against Congressman Schock are serious, raising questions about his expenditure of official funds and campaign funds. His resignation came as a surprise and reflects the gravity of his situation."
Gov. Bruce Rauner must now set dates for special primary and general elections in the heavily-Republican 18th District. Those dates must be announced within five dates of Schock's final day in office, March 31.
Schock did not inform his party leaders in advance of his decision to quit. His decision means a House Ethics investigation will stop. However, the most recent revelation, that Schock billed his campaign and taxpayers for mileage reimbursement on a vehicle that had showed about half of the miles he'd claimed, presents other problems.
"He's going to have to buck up himself to defend himself. He needs to put all his time and energy into defending himself because he could be facing criminal charges," Washington said.
Schock went to Congress at 27 and resigned by 33. He held a spot on the influential Ways and Means Committee, and he won his last election with nearly 75 percent of the vote.
"In the district here we just kind of accepted he was the rock of Gibraltar," said Darrel Miller, who ran unsuccessfully against Schock in 2014. "He would fly into fundraising events in a helicopter and he'd take checks and in two hours be gone. We just accepted that's what life is in Aaron Schock's world."
His resignation even took the staff at his Peoria office by surprise; one source said staffers learned of the resignation as it became public mid-day Tuesday.
"I thought he would at least try to fight and prove that he was here for the community, but resigning shows that he gave up and he had no fight in him," said Joy Thomas, a Peoria resident.
"A lot of Peorians are really disappointed about the allegations at hand, but you know, they were expecting Aaron Schock to be somebody big in Congree and represent Peoria," said Aaron Petzold, a Peoria resident.
Among the higher profile Republicans considering a run are former candidate for governor Bill Brady and State Sen. Darin LaHood, the son of former transportation secretary Ray LaHood.
"I'm going to be making an announcement tomorrow on my future plans for that seat," LaHood said.