DALLAS (AP) — U.S. Representative Van Taylor of Texas said Wednesday he was ending his re-election campaign and admitted to having an affair following reports that he had a relationship with the widow of an American-born recruiter for the Islamic State group.
The North Texas congressman’s announcement came the day after former Collin County Judge Keith Self forced Taylor into a runoff for the Republican nomination.
Several days before Tuesday’s primary election, some right-wing websites reported an interview with Tania Joya, who said she had an affair with Taylor that lasted from October 2020 to June 2021. Joya, from the suburbs from Dallas in Plano, told the Dallas Morning News Monday night that she met the congressman through her work as a former jihadist helping reprogram extremists.
Taylor apologized for the matter in a statement shared with supporters on Wednesday. He did not mention Joya by name or refer to her late husband, the Islamic State recruiter.
“About a year ago I made a horrible mistake that caused deep hurt and pain to those I love most in the world,” he wrote. “I had an affair, it was wrong, and it was the biggest failure of my life.”
The Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday that Joya contacted Suzanne Harp, another candidate opposing Taylor in the primary, hoping Harp would confront Taylor privately and persuade him to give up and resign from Congress.
“All I wanted was for Suzanne Harp to just say, ‘Hey, I know about your little scandal with Tania Joya. Would you like to quit before we embarrass you? But it didn’t happen that way,” Joya told the newspaper.
Instead, the newspaper reported, Harp sent a supporter to interview the woman and then shared the interview with two right-wing websites. In a statement, Harp said the revelations were “deeply concerning, and I pray for everyone involved.”
“Politics should build our families, our communities and our political parties. This story breaks my heart, both as a wife and as an American. Politics should never tear these sacred institutions apart,” she said.
Taylor, a Navy and Iraq War veteran, was considered one of the more conservative members of the Texas delegation when he was elected in 2018. But he was sharply criticized by the right-wing of the party for voting to certify the results of the 2020 election and supporting a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
Joya’s first husband, John Georgelas, grew up in Plano, converted to Islam and became a top recruiter for the extremist group Islamic State. In 2013, he took her and their three children to northern Syria where, under the name Yahya Abu Hassan, he became the most important American fighter for the Islamic State. He was killed in 2017.
Three weeks after arriving in Syria, a pregnant Joya fled to Turkey with the children, then to Plano to live near her in-laws. The couple have been covered for years by tabloids in their native Britain and featured in American publications.
Toward the end of the affair with Taylor, Joya said she sought help paying off credit card debt and other bills. He gave her $5,000, she said.
“I needed help. I was like, just help me because it’s the least – the least – he can do,” she told the newspaper. “For him, it was like, ‘OK, provided you don’t tell anyone.’ …I didn’t want to tell anyone.
Taylor garnered 48.7% of the vote on Tuesday, 823 fewer votes than he needed to avoid a runoff with 63,981 ballots. Self got 26.5% of the vote, while Harp got 20.8%.
Self is an Army veteran and graduate of the United States Military Academy. He claimed Taylor had strayed from his conservative roots in the GOP-dominated district. He was among those who strongly criticized Taylor’s votes on the election result and the insurgency investigation and Taylor’s vote to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol.