WASHINGTON - A married congressman from upstate New York resigned suddenly Wednesday after a scandal erupted over emails and a shirtless photo supposedly sent to a woman in response to a Craigslist dating ad.
Republican Christopher Lee had just begun his second term representing New York's 26th District. Just hours after the scandal broke on Gawker.com, Lee announced that he was quitting Congress, and a clerk read his letter of resignation on the House floor.
In a statement, Lee said:
"It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Western New York. 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 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."
The controversy erupted when Gawker reported that a Maryland woman had sent in emails supposedly written by Lee in response to a dating ad that she had placed on Craigslist. In the emails, the man represented himself as a divorced lobbyist younger than Lee's actual age of 46.
Gawker published a shirtless photo that he had taken of himself, flexing his muscles. One of the emails attributed to him on Gawker described him as a "fit fun classy guy."
Lee and his wife, Michele, live in Amherst, N.Y. They have one son.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner told NBC News that it was Lee's decision to resign.
His exit triggers a special election, which Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo must call. Lee was first elected in 2008 with 55 percent of the vote, and GOP presidential candidate John McCain won the district — New York's 26th — in 2008 with 52 percent. Lee was reelected in 2010 with 74 percent of the vote.
The 26th District covers all or part of seven counties, including suburbs of Buffalo and Rochester. It has been a solidly Republican district.
NBC News' Domenico Montanaro, Shawna Thomas and Kelly O'Donnell and msnbc.com's Carrie Dann contributed to this report.