By Carol D. Leonnig and Mary Ann Akers
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2010; A07
Rep. Mark Souder, an Indiana Republican known for his support of traditional family values, announced Tuesday that he will leave office, ending a tense week in which a key staffer confronted him with rumors about his alleged extramarital affair with a part-time aide.
Souder, who won Indiana's May 4 Republican primary, acknowledged to his chief of staff on May 12 that he was in a romantic relationship with Tracy Meadows Jackson, who has worked in various capacities in his district office. The allegations surfaced during the primary campaign when anonymous tipsters called Souder's aides and his opponent, according to sources familiar with the events.
The eight-term congressman immediately made plans to resign, according to the sources.
In his announcement, Souder acknowledged a "mutual relationship" without naming the staffer involved. He said he was "ashamed" that he had "sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff." But he blamed the "poisonous environment of Washington" for his decision to resign, effective Friday.
A self-described conservative and a Christian, Souder had focused on three areas since entering Congress: in his words, "how to keep the economy strong; how do we improve our education system; and how do we change the cultural and moral direction of this country."
Souder, 59, a pudgy man with an unruly shelf of gray hair, got high marks in his district for his evangelical beliefs. He received an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association and a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee.
Jackson, 45, a strawberry blonde, also worked as a Mary Kay cosmetics consultant and is married to a successful homebuilder and Kosciusko County Commissioner. On Facebook, where she maintained a profile, she routinely sent high-fives to Souder -- clicking "Like" --when he posted his congressional activities on his page.
Their affair began after Jackson joined Souder's district staff in 2004, according to a source familiar with the relationship. For several years, she had no official title and no fixed office where she was assigned to work. She earned $10,000 to $20,000 a year in salary, congressional staff records show.
Jackson was hired to be a guest host for a daily radio spot Souder recorded for WFCV, a local religious radio station better known as Fort Wayne Christian Voice. She also helped host a local cable access show that served as a platform for Souder to discuss conservative issues; in one episode, they focused on his strong support for teen abstinence.
Jackson did not respond Tuesday to repeated e-mails and calls. Sources identifying her as the woman in a relationship with Souder spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss the sensitive matter.
House Democratic leaders, after taking a beating from the GOP for their handling of a sexual harassment scandal involving then-Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), stayed relatively quiet about the Souder controversy.
After Souder aides learned last week of their boss's affair, they contacted Minority Leader John A. Boehner's office. Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke by phone to Souder on Monday night. His spokesman issued a terse statement saying that Boehner "has been perfectly clear that he will hold our members to the highest ethical standards."
Bob Thomas, Souder's challenger in the primary, confirmed that his office repeatedly took calls in the days before the vote from anonymous tipsters who alleged that the lawmaker regularly met a girlfriend in state parks near Fort Wayne.
"Our campaign heard rumors to this effect, but we weren't interested in going through people's garbage," Thomas said.
Thomas, who ran as an outsider, said he is sorry for both families. He noted the odd timing, though: Now Republican precinct chairmen, not voters, are likely to select the nominee.
"Had this information come out three weeks ago, I would have been the nominee," Thomas said.
Stutzman has a connection to Jackson's husband: Brad Jackson is a friend and pilot who sometimes flew Stutzman around the state for his Senate campaign. Stutzman's campaign said the legislator has no connection to the anonymous tips about the affair.
Dale Gerke, the general manager of FWCV, said he saw Souder and Jackson working together frequently at the station but was "blindsided" by the news of an affair.
"When we heard he was going to resign this morning, this was the last thing that came to our minds," Gerke said. "We are just really sad and really praying for both families."
Souder and his wife, Diane, have three grown children -- two sons and a daughter -- and two grandchildren.
Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.