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Ex-Rep. Pickering's Wife Says He Cheated

The estranged wife of former Rep. Chip Pickering claims in a lawsuit that the Mississippi Republican had an affair that ruined their marriage and derailed his political career.

Leisha Pickering seeks unspecified damages in the alienation of affection lawsuit she filed this week against Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd of Jackson. There was no immediate response from Creekmore Byrd or Chip Pickering. The Pickerings filed for divorce in June 2008, but the divorce is not complete.

The lawsuit says Chip Pickering and Creekmore Byrd dated in college, reconnected and began having an affair while Pickering was in Congress and living in a Christian building for lawmakers near the U.S. Capitol. Pickering, 45, was elected to Congress in 1996, retired in January and became a lobbyist for a firm that represents Cellular South, the company Byrd's family owns. The lawsuit does not say when the affair started.

The three-story red brick house at 133 C Street SE is registered in District of Columbia tax records as a religious and commercial building. It is affiliated with a Christian group of many names, including the "Fellowship Foundation."

The group sponsors the annual National Prayer Breakfast attended by the president, members of Congress and other dignitaries. Among those who have lived in the house are South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, another former Republican congressman who said last month that he had confided in C Street friends about an affair he has had with a woman from Argentina.

Pickering cast himself as a defender of decency, particularly on television and the Internet, and was among House members urging then-President George W. Bush to declare 2008 "the National Year of the Bible."

Leisha Pickering's lawsuit says that when Republican Trent Lott resigned from the U.S. Senate in December 2007, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour offered the seat to Chip Pickering, who declined. Barbour spokesman Laura Hipp said Thursday that the governor only offered the Senate seat to U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, who accepted it.

The lawsuit contends that Creekmore Byrd gave Pickering an ultimatum, saying their relationship could not continue if he became a senator because he would have to stay married.

"Ultimately, Creekmore Byrd gave Pickering the option to remain a public servant or become a private citizen and continue relations with her," the lawsuit says.

The voice mail box at Creekmore Byrd's home was full Thursday and messages left for her divorce attorney and at Chip Pickering's Jackson and Washington lobbying offices were not immediately returned.

Creekmore Byrd, 45, is a member of Mississippi's wealthy Creekmore family, founders of the Cellular South phone company.

Creekmore Byrd and several relatives and Cellular South executives donated to Pickering while he was in Congress, and he had kind words for the company at a 2007 subcommittee hearing where invited speakers included Cellular South president Victor Meena.

He announced in August 2007 that he wouldn't seek another term. He and Leisha Pickering have five sons.

After leaving office in January, he joined the lobbying firm Capitol Resources LLC, in which one of Barbour's nephews is a partner. The firm lists Pickering as a member of its Washington and Mississippi teams.

In the House, Pickering specialized in telecommunications issues, including one dear to Cellular South: making sure Congress took into account the interests of cellular companies serving rural areas.

In Pickering's second term, he made it onto the House Commerce Committee, a post a senior Republican, Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., joked that he "had to fight like a demon" to get.

Creekmore Byrd and her husband, Dr. Douglas Byrd, were married in 1990 but stopped living together in June 2006. They were granted a divorce in 2007 on the grounds of irreconcilable differences.