While former Rep. Chip Pickering of Mississippi allegedly carried on an extramarital affair with Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd, he recorded details of his exploits in a secret diary, including the dates and locations of his adulterous encounters.
Pickering, a Republican, described several assignations he had with Creekmore Byrd inside the C Street House, a Capitol Hill townhouse inhabited by an all-male group of right-wing Republican congressmen belonging to The Fellowship, an evangelical group.
And according to a divorce filing by Pickering’s estranged wife, Leisha, the former congressman’s diary reveals the identities of several men who enabled his adulterous trysts and helped him cover his tracks.
So who were Pickering’s enablers? Are they or were they ever C Street House residents? And what role did they play, if any, in helping Pickering transform a house that hosted a “Christian men’s accountability group” into his love nest?
Thanks to heavily politicized local courts and an aggressive damage-control campaign waged by Pickering and his powerful Republican allies, the diary, which contains the answers to these questions, is locked away in a courtroom in Mississippi. And if Pickering has his way, it will stay there indefinitely.
Pickering was once considered one of the GOP’s brightest stars. An ardent social conservative and defender of “traditional marriage,” he was seen as a shoo-in for former Majority Leader Trent Lott’s Senate seat when Lott retired in 2007. Indeed, according to Leisha Pickering’s divorce filing, Mississippi Governor and former Washington super-lobbyist and Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour personally offered Pickering the seat. But according to the divorce filing, Creekmore Byrd “insisted that if Pickering accepted the position in the Senate that their relationship would not be able to continue.”
In the end, Pickering chose his mistress over his congressional career and his wife. After serving 12 years in Congress, he announced his intention not to seek re-election suddenly in August 2007, just months after sponsoring legislation urging President George W. Bush to adopt legislation declaring 2008 “the National Year of the Bible.”
Chip Pickering is the scion of one of the most influential Republican families in Mississippi, son of retired federal appeals court Judge Charles Pickering, one of the founders of Mississippi’s post-civil rights GOP and past president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.
Appointed to the federal bench by Bush in 2001, Charles Pickering encountered a ferocious Democratic filibuster fueled in part by his documented involvement with segregationist elements battling civil rights in the 1960s. After a recess appointment by Bush in 2003, Charles Pickering withdrew his nomination and retired a year later when he realized that he would never earn the votes he needed for confirmation.
Today Charles Pickering remains a towering figure in the state GOP and, along with Barbour, a key stage manager of his son’s political career.
Chip Pickering’s wife had announced her attention to divorce him by the time he resigned from Congress, but her motivation for the divorce was unknown at the time, leaving Pickering’s resignation shrouded in mystery. His affair only came to light on July 16, 2009, when she filed a lawsuit against his alleged mistress, claiming that their adulterous relationship had ruined the Pickerings’ marriage and his career.
In a statement responding to the suit, Pickering said, “I still believe it is in the best interest of our five boys if our differences are resolved privately and before the appropriate court and not in the media.”
But keeping the affair out of the media spotlight has proved difficult, especially because the identity of the alleged mistress brought forth another embarrassing detail: Pickering had taken his golden parachute from the mistress’ well-heeled and politically influential family, the Creekmores, going to work as a lobbyist for a firm that represents their Cellular South telecom company (one of Barbour’s nephews is a partner at the firm).
While in Congress, Pickering used his post on the House Telecommunications Subcommittee to invite Cellular South President Victor Meena to testify before the subcommittee in December 2007. Subsequently, the congressman reaped thousands of dollars in donations from numerous Cellular South executives.
Though Pickering is now out of Congress, the suppression of the diary is a high priority for Republican Party leaders from Washington to Mississippi. The GOP is reeling from sex scandals involving two men associated with the C Street House, Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Senator John Ensign of Nevada. The revelation of private emails between Sanford and his Argentine mistress and the exposure of payments from Ensign’s casino-mogul parents to his mistress prolonged the back-to-back public-relations disasters for weeks beyond the first reports of the affairs.
The release of Pickering’s diary would likely have an electrifying effect, reigniting media interest in his dalliance and drawing renewed attention to the C Street evangelical men’s group to which he and other Republican lawmakers have belonged.
A reliable source close to Leisha Pickering’s divorce case has told me that Chip Pickering and local Republican Party bigwigs connected to Barbour’s political allies have applied a full court press on Leisha Pickering, hoping to coerce her into dropping her lawsuit.
The source said Leisha Pickering has become “skittish” about airing her grievances outside the courtroom. She has disclosed to close associates that she still has feelings for her husband of 20 years, with whom she shares five children. What’s more, she remains a devoted Republican who has grown increasingly concerned about the damage her lawsuit might cause her party.
While applying personal pressure to his estranged wife, Pickering and his lawyers have thrown up stiff opposition to her attempts to present damning evidence in divorce court.
When she attempted to introduce her husband’s diary as evidence during a July 7 divorce hearing in Mississippi, Pickering’s lawyers demanded Judge Cynthia Lee Brewer keep them under seal. Though the lawyers had scant legal precedent for their request, the judge acceded, saying the diaries were prepared in anticipation of litigation and were therefore inadmissible in court.
A source close to the case told me Brewer’s ruling was “incredibly outside the norm” and “outrageous.”
“The court seemed in awe of Chip Pickering,” an attorney speaking on background told the Jackson Free Press, “like they had decided that were going to do everything to help him out. This was blatantly wrong.”
Leisha Pickering then sued her husband’s alleged mistress, Creekmore Byrd. Mississippi is one of four states that allow such lawsuits, justifying them on the grounds that sabotaging a marriage represents deliberate interference with a legally binding contract. To represent her, Leisha Pickering has tapped two high-powered local lawyers who are both former state Supreme Court justices.
A source close the case told me the judge presiding over the lawsuit could rule to make the Pickering diary public, thereby voiding Brewer’s decision in the divorce court. So long as the judge’s decision is pending, the diary represents a ticking time bomb—with the potential to rock corridors of conservative power from Jackson, Mississippi, to C Street in Washington.