Indiana congressman to resign after affair with staffer

Anonymous calls accused Souder after primary win

By Carol D. Leonnig and Mary Ann Akers
The Washington Post / May 19, 2010

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WASHINGTON — US Representative Mark Souder of Indiana decided to resign his seat after anonymous tipsters began calling aides in his office and his opponents in a Republican primary, accusing him of having an affair with a part-time staffer, according to three sources familiar with the calls.

Last week, after he won the primary, Souder admitted the allegations to his chief of staff, Renee Howell, who confronted the conservative Christian congressman about the rumors that he was having an extramarital affair with Tracey Meadows Jackson, according to a source in the office. Six days later, yesterday morning, Souder publicly admitted the affair — without naming the longtime staffer — and said he would resign effective Friday.

The affair began after Jackson was hired in a part-time role in 2004, according to a source knowledgeable about the relationship. Jackson, who is married, was hired to play guest host with Souder for a daily radio spot he recorded for WFCV, a Christian radio station in Fort Wayne. The spots were taped once a week and aired daily. Jackson played host, asking Souder about what he was working on in Washington for his constituents.

“It is with great regret I announce that I am resigning from the US House of Representatives as well as resigning as the Republican nominee for Congress in this fall’s election,’’ Souder said in a statement yesterday. “I sinned against God, my wife, and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff. . . . I am so shamed to have hurt those I love.’’

Jackson was also hired to play host for a local cable access show Souder had at one point. The show served as a platform for Souder to discuss conservative issues dear to him. Jackson has also helped produce numerous videos of Souder’s speeches and positions, including one in which they discussed his strong support for teen abstinence.

Less than a week before the Republican primary election, anonymous callers phoned some of the Republican candidates running against Souder, with allegations that he was regularly meeting a girlfriend for romantic trysts in state parks. One alleged that he and a staffer went together late at night to the remote and heavily forested Robinson Lake boat launch in Whitley County. But the opponents questioned the reliability of the information, and did not make a public issue of the accusations.

As of yesterday, Souder and his wife, Diane Zimmer Souder, remained together, according to one knowledgeable source. Souder and his wife have three grown children and two grandchildren.

The public revelations about Souder come two weeks after he survived a serious primary challenge from car dealer Bob Thomas, who spent considerable sums of his own money on the race. Souder won the primary with less than 50 percent of the vote. Thomas and another candidate trailed far behind.

State law allows Governor Mitch Daniels, a Republican, wide leeway in whether to call a special election to replace Souder on the ballot.