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Fallout continues for Schock

For Rep. Aaron Schock, it may be the fallout that ruins him.

What began a month ago with questions about the Illinois Republican’s unusual “Downton Abbey” inspired office decorations has quickly become a slow drip of more damaging stories by the day.

Now, questions about his exotic trips, lavish tastes and abuse of taxpayer and campaign dollars are threatening to derail the political career of one of the GOP’s fastest-rising stars.

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The 33-year-old congressman from Peoria has said he isn’t sure if he violated any federal campaign-finance laws. And another shoe dropped on Thursday: Schock may have improperly taken money from an outside group to pay for the travel expenses of a photographer who was not on his staff — a possible violation of House rules, National Journal reported.

Conservative critics are now calling for his ouster.  

National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke didn’t mince words, writing: “Let’s say it, aloud: Aaron Schock is a crook.”

Writing on his popular Red State website, Erick Erickson questioned how Schock could be entrusted with Congress’s power of the purse when he couldn’t take charge of his own finances.

“His excuses are now met with revised excuses, further apologies, and corrections to corrected records of expenditures and campaign finance reports. He has lived a life as a celebrity in a city that more and more craves celebrity over competence in office,” the conservative blogger wrote. 

It’s a swift fall from grace for Schock. Since being elected in 2008, the Illinois Republican has raked in heaps of cash for the National Republican Congressional Committee and has been mentioned as a future House leader or gubernatorial candidate. 

He’s spent six years cultivating good relationships with congressional colleagues and reporters, landed a coveted seat on the Ways and Means Committee and was named a senior deputy whip.

But there was a less serious side of him, too. The first “millennial congressman,” Schock was the first member born in the 1980s and was able to tap into social media to show a younger generation that serving in this staid institution could be cool.

His Instagram feed shows him hobnobbing with everyone from Pope Francis and George W. Bush to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Azar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to 'tarnish' administration's accomplishments Justice Dept. argues Trump should get immunity from rape accuser's lawsuit MORE and singer Ariana Grande. 

Other pictures and videos document him surfing shirtless in Waikiki, doing the tango and hiking glaciers in Argentina and rocking out at a Dave Matthews concert on the shores of Lake Michigan.

With such exotic tastes on his own social media pages, it’s not a stretch for observers to believe reports that the four-term congressman billed taxpayers and campaign donors thousands of dollars for flights on private jets, pricey hotel rooms, even a Katy Perry concert.

To try stop the bleeding, Schock has hired a team of D.C. lawyers and crisis communications experts and is conducting an internal review of how his congressional office and campaign approves and records expenses.

The super-intense fitness fanatic — whose six-pack abs were once splashed on the cover of Men’s Health magazine — is on the defense and maintains he’s not going anywhere, even as he faces several ethics probes and the threat of criminal charges.

“I would simply say these are the same groups who have called on John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerHouse conservatives plot to oust Liz Cheney Ex-Speaker Boehner after Capitol violence: 'The GOP must awaken' Boehner congratulates President-elect Joe Biden MORE and Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi mum on when House will send impeachment article to Senate Democratic senator: COVID-19 relief is priority over impeachment trial The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE to step down,” Schock told constituents at a local Lions Club in his district this week. “So they’re people who fundamentally have never supported me and probably won’t ever support me — and, unfortunately for them, I’m not going anywhere.

“I don’t take my marching orders from Erick Erickson, I take my marching orders from the 750,000 people in the 18th District, who spoke rather loudly a few months ago," he said, referring to his November victory, when he won with nearly 75 percent of the vote.

Schock’s district is heavily Republican, so Democrats don’t have much of a shot capturing the seat in 2016. He also had $3.3 million in his campaign war chest at the end of 2014. 

But Schock still could face a strong primary challenge from the right, depending how stories of his lavish spending play back home in Peoria, a city of 100,000 with deep blue-collar roots.

Already, attorney Mark Zalcman, a self-described "pro-union, Christian conservative" from Normal, Ill., said this week he’ll try to unseat Schock next year. His campaign slogan: “Because Washington needs the Gospel.”

“All the principles of fiscal conservatism come from the Bible,” Zalcman said in a phone interview. “The people here are extremely upset, they are fed up and they feel betrayed. A lot of people are struggling economically here.”

Ultimately, it may be “Downton Abbey” that does him in. A rather innocuous story in The Washington Post last month detailed how Schock had redecorated his office in the motif of the hit PBS drama about early 20th-century British aristocrats. Schock ultimately repaid taxpayers $40,000 for the renovations, but by then he had already been slammed by an avalanche of negative press.

“Perhaps Downton Abbey needs someone else to fill the role of an American playboy chasing a Crawley. He can go spend time on the real set instead of trying to dress up his office at our expense or that of his donors,” Erickson, the conservative blogger, wrote. 

The other allegations of questionable spending and sloppy bookkeeping are too numerous to mention, but here are a few highlights:

  • New York trip: Last September, taxpayers were billed $10,000 for 10 Schock staffers to attend an “official” event in New York, though the Chicago Sun-Times reported that most of them had few duties during their stay at the Palace Hotel. Schock’s political director, Karen Haney, also attended the weekend trip; her tab was picked up by Schock’s political action committee, GOP Generation Y. Schock defended the trip, saying it was tied to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the U.S.
  • Chicago Bears game: Schock used taxpayer dollars to charter a private plane from Peoria to Chicago to attend the Bears-Vikings game on Nov. 16, the Sun-Times reported. Schock has since wrote a check reimbursing taxpayers for the flight.
  • Katy Perry concert: Records from Schock’s politcal action committee show a nearly $2,000 expense for the online ticket service StubHub last summer. The congressman had invited his interns to a Katy Perry concert in June at the Verizon Center in D.C., the AP reported. While it's not illegal, the appearance of using donor contributions for pop concerts doesn't look good.

At a news conference last week, Schock conceded all the trips and flashy photos “create the misimpression of being out of touch” with his constituents. 

But other than that, the new, less flashy Shock says he’s not answering many other questions.

“I take the law and my compliance very seriously. And based on the team of professionals I have hired to review my office's processes and procedures, including the former head of the Federal Election Commission ... I am not going to comment further until that review is complete," Schock told a CNN reporter who had tracked him down at an event in Peoria.

"In the meantime, I am focusing on doing what I do best, which is focusing on delivering for the people of the 18th District."