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U.S. Rep. Van Taylor drops his Texas reelection bid and admits to an affair

Rep. Van Taylor, R-Texas, is pictured during a House committee hearing on Capitol Hill in September 2020. Taylor announced Wednesday he was dropping his bid for reelection.
Caroline Brehman
Rep. Van Taylor, R-Texas, is pictured during a House committee hearing on Capitol Hill in September 2020. Taylor announced Wednesday he was dropping his bid for reelection.

DALLAS — U.S. Rep. Van Taylor of Texas said Wednesday that he was ending his reelection campaign and admitted having an affair following reports that he had been in 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 on an interview with Tania Joya, who said she had an affair with Taylor that lasted from October 2020 to June 2021. Joya, of the Dallas suburb of Plano, told The Dallas Morning News on Monday night that she had met the congressman through her work as an ex-jihadist helping to reprogram extremists.

Taylor apologized for the affair in a statement shared with supporters Wednesday. It didn't mention Joya by name or reference her late husband, the Islamic State group recruiter.

"About a year ago, I made a horrible mistake that has caused deep hurt and pain among those I love most in this world," he wrote. "I had an affair, it was wrong, and it was the greatest 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 drop out and resign from Congress.

"All I wanted was for Suzanne Harp to just say, 'Hey, I know your little scandal with Tania Joya. Would you like to resign before we embarrass you?' But it didn't happen like that," Joya told the newspaper.

Instead, the newspaper reported, Harp sent a supporter to interview the woman, then shared the interview with a pair of right-wing websites.

In a statement, Harp said the revelations were "deeply concerning, and I'm praying for all involved."

"Politics should build up 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 former Marine and Iraq war combat veteran, was considered one of the Texas delegation's most conservative members when he was elected in 2018. But he has been sharply criticized by the party's right wing for voting to certify the 2020 election results and supporting a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Joya's first husband, John Georgelas, grew up in Plano, converted to Islam and became a top recruiter for the extremist Islamic State group. In 2013, he took her and their three children to northern Syria where, as Yahya Abu Hassan, he became the most important American fighting for ISIS. He was killed in 2017.

Three weeks after their arrival in Syria, a pregnant Joya fled to Turkey with the children, then to Plano to live near her in-laws. The couple was covered for years by tabloids in her native Britain and profiled in U.S. publications.

Toward the end of the affair with Taylor, Joya said she asked for help to pay off a credit card debt and some other bills. He gave her $5,000, she said.

"I needed help. I was like, just help me out because that's the least — the very least — he could do," she told the newspaper. "For him, it was like, 'OK, on the condition you don't tell anyone.' ... I didn't want to tell anybody anything."

Taylor tallied 48.7% of the vote on Tuesday, falling 823 votes short of what he needed to avoid a runoff with 63,981 ballots cast. Self scored 26.5% of the vote, while Harp tallied 20.8%.

Self is an Army veteran and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. He has claimed Taylor drifted from his conservative roots in the GOP-dominant district. He was among those who heavily criticized Taylor's votes on the election result and insurrection investigation and Taylor's vote to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol.

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