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Gawker reported that Lee identified himself as a divorced lobbyist and sent the photo of him posing shirtless in front of a mirror. It said the woman eventually broke off the contact with Lee after becoming suspicious that he had misrepresented himself.

Just over three hours later, AP received an e-mail statement from Lee making a vague reference to the incident and announcing his resignation.

“It was stunning,” Stern said.

By Thursday night, politicos from Washington to Buffalo, N.Y., were bandying names of possible candidates in the yet-to-be announced special election for Lee’s seat. They included White House spokesman Bill Burton, a Buffalo native who had been approached about making a run, according to a knowledgeable official who asked not to be identified revealing private discussions. The official and several other Democrats said Burton is unlikely to seek the seat in the Republican-leaning district. Possible Republican candidates included former state Assemblyman Jack Quinn III, the son of former Rep. Jack Quinn.

Extramarital scandal and the fall of its casualties are Washington rituals as old as Congress itself. But searching for love in lawless cyberspace defies the illicit nature of prospective liaisons and carries the risk of leaving damning evidence that can be beamed around the globe in moments.

Still, Lee wasn’t the first congressmen sunk by the lure of love over the Internet. And Boehner knows well the challenge such transgressions pose to party leaders.

In 2006, Florida GOP Rep. Mark Foley resigned one day after e-mails he had written three years earlier to a former congressional page surfaced. The scandal quickly focused on GOP leaders.

Boehner, at the time House majority leader, and former New York Rep. Tom Reynolds, who headed the GOP’s re-election campaign, said they had spoken with then-Speaker Denny Hastert about some details of the matter months earlier. Hastert indicated that it had been “taken care of,” Boehner told radio station WLW in Cincinnati. “My position is it’s in his corner, it’s his responsibility.”

On Thursday, as Lee’s staff tried to carry on until the winner of a special election takes over the seat, Boehner refused to describe any role he may have played in Congress’s latest scandal.

He has set standards with the group of lawmakers before.

Last March, Boehner, then head of his party as minority leader, dealt quickly with Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., when he learned during a weekend that Souder was having an affair with a part-time aide who was married. That Monday, Boehner spoke by phone with Souder and then reported his conversation to the House ethics committee. By Tuesday, Souder had resigned.

Later that summer, Roll Call reported that Boehner had warned Lee and some other colleagues about inappropriately hanging out with female lobbyists.

“I’ve had members in here where I thought they had crossed the line,” Roll Call quoted Boehner as saying at the time. “I have had others I thought were approaching the line.”

So why then, Boehner was asked Thursday, do there still seem to be so many scandals in Congress?

“I wouldn’t know,” Boehner said.

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