Boehner wants no fingerprints on Lee

BOEHNER WANTS NO FINGERPRINTS ON LEE…. Former Rep. Christopher Lee (R-N.Y.) resigned yesterday, literally just a few hours after embarrassing revelations about him, Craigslist, and a topless photo.

There were some questions this morning about whether Lee jumped or was pushed. We know he met with Republican leaders yesterday afternoon before his retirement announcement, but did they show Lee the door?

Apparently not.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) “made his own decision” to resign on Wednesday after a tabloid website published a suggestive photo the married congressman sent to a woman he encountered on Craigslist.

“Congressman Lee made his own decision that he thought was in his best interests and the interests of his family,” Boehner said at a news conference.

The Speaker did not say whether he spoke to Lee in the hours between when the website,, published its story and when the congressman resigned, shortly before 5 p.m. Speaking tersely and hesitantly about the topic, Boehner also declined to discuss warnings against excess partying that he issued to Republicans lawmakers last year.

I don’t imagine the House Speaker cares about my advice, but this strikes me as all wrong. In fact, if I were Boehner, I’d be taking the opposite tack. “I told Congressman Lee he’d embarrassed himself and needed to go,” I’d say. “When I and other Republican leaders promised a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy about these kinds of transgressions, we meant it. The Republican caucus aims for the highest standards, Lee obviously fell far short, and so he is no longer a member of my caucus.”

Wouldn’t that make Boehner look much stronger as a leader? Instead we get, “Lee made his own decision”? It seems like a missed opportunity.

Hell, I’d actually respect Boehner for taking a no-nonsense line, sending a signal that ethical, legal, and personal lapses won’t be tolerated on his watch. Why not show some leadership?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.