House Democrats may demand ethics probe of Souder over affair

By Mary Ann Akers
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2010; 8:56 PM

In what may amount to an election-year tit-for-tat, House Democratic leaders are privately weighing whether to seek an ethics investigation into how Republicans handled the sex scandal that ended Indiana Rep. Mark Souder's career.

The idea arose Wednesday after Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), chairman of the House Republican Conference, told reporters that he learned last week of his GOP colleague's extramarital affair -- three days before House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said he first heard about it. Pence said that he approached Souder on the House floor Thursday after hearing rumors of the romance.

"It was at that point that he shared the fact that he had been involved in an extramarital affair," Pence said. "It's a deeply saddening event. Congressman Souder's circumstance is a family tragedy, but he also betrayed the public trust. He did the right thing by resigning from Congress. We're praying for his family. Praying for reconciliation and, frankly, praying for all of those who have been impacted by the poor moral choices that he made."

Boehner said he first learned of the affair Sunday, and that he spoke directly to Souder on Monday, when he asked the lawmaker to step down. On Tuesday, Souder did so, tearfully admitting that he had a long-standing relationship with Tracy Jackson, a part-time staffer.

The Souder scandal comes as Democratic leaders are under investigation by the House ethics panel for their handling of the case of Eric Massa, a New York Democrat who was driven from office after several male staffers accused him of sexual harassment.

"We feel like we did the right thing [in the Massa case] but we're still being investigated," said one senior House Democratic aide, who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. "We don't want to do a tit-for-tat. But the question is: What did Republicans know?"

Republican leaders contend that they acted forcefully as soon as they realized that Souder's affair involved a member of his staff -- a revelation that didn't occur until Sunday, they said.

"In response to a general media inquiry, Mr. Pence confronted Mr. Souder on Thursday. Mr. Souder confessed to an affair, but did not mention that it was with a part-time staff member," said Pence spokesman Matt Lloyd. "It was not until Sunday evening that Mr. Souder called Mr. Pence to inform him that the affair was with a part-time staff member. Mr. Pence encouraged Mr. Souder to resign immediately and notified [the House ethics committee] on Monday."

Another senior Democratic aide said Democrats are divided over whether to seek a formal investigation. The Souder affair is "a simple case" compared to the Massa scandal, the aide said, adding that it may be a "waste of time" for Democrats to try to pursue the matter further.

Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), a member of the House Democratic leadership, blasted the GOP anew over the Souder affair, saying Wednesday, "All House Republicans have to offer the American people is uncontrollable arrogance and pervasive hypocrisy."

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