Revelations that Republican Congressman Scott DesJarlais had affairs outside his marriage and pushed a pregnant mistress to get an abortion were branded “disgusting” and “disqualifying” by his Democratic opponent Wednesday.
DesJarlais, seeking his second term as representative in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District, did not deny the validity of a transcript of a conversation 12 years ago between himself and the pregnant woman. He refused requests for an interview.
DesJarlais spokesman Robert Jameson sent reporters an email described the reports as “gutter politics” and “character assassination.” He also called them “old news from the last election cycle that Tennesseans have already widely rejected.”
The latter is a reference to TV ads in 2010 aired by former Democratic U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, who cited court records of DesJarlais’ divorce wherein the Jasper physician was described threatening his former wife and as putting a pistol in his mouth and threatening suicide. DesJarlais, a doctor by profession, defeated Davis in the 2010 election.
Reports on the affairs and the abortion, however, had not been made public until published Wednesday by The Huffington Post, a politically-oriented Internet website. The Post said court records show DesJarlais has admitted to at least four affairs.
Late Wednesday, the Huffington Post posted a video it attributed to “a Democratic tracker,” or someone assigned by Democrats to follow Republican candidates, showing the congressman being asked, “Why, as a doctor, would you sleep with your patients?” DesJarlais is shown putting on his jacket and then walking away without answering.
“Congressman DesJarlais has consistently presented himself as a pro-life, pro-family values person,” said Eric Stewart, a Democratic state senator opposing DesJarlais and generally rated a heavy underdog.
“Today we all learned that a news story broke that showed the congressman admitted to having four affairs,” Stewart said at a Murfreesboro news conference, declaring the revelations show DesJarlais is “not worthy” of holding office, cannot be trusted and is hypocritical.
“Congressman DesJarlais took an oath to be faithful in marriage and broke that oath at least four times,” said Stewart. “Congressman DesJarlais took an oath as a physician ‘to do no harm’ and broke that oath. Congressman DesJarlais has broken faith with the people of the 4th District.”
Bill Fletcher, political consultant to the Stewart campaign and to the Davis campaign two years ago, acknowledged DesJarlais has been a heavy favorite in the campaign with a huge lead in fundraising with support of House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
“It’s a totally new ball game starting today,” said Fletcher.
Davis said in a telephone interview Wednesday that he had seen a transcript of DesJarlais’ conversation with the pregnant woman, who had met DesJarlais as one of his patients, “two or three days” before the 2010 election after his campaign had received it anonymously. He did not mention the reports at the time because they could not be verified as accurate, Davis said.
Earlier this year, however, Davis said Susan DesJarlais, the congressman’s ex-wife, contacted him and said the transcript was accurate. Davis quoted her as telling him DesJarlais had recorded the conversation himself and played it “to prove to me he was serious about us remaining husband and wife.”
The divorce became final in 2001 and the congressman has since re-married. Davis said he understood from Susan DesJarlais that there was ultimately an abortion.
Davis said he had not provided anyone with a copy of the transcript – The Huffington Post said it was obtained from “other sources” that verified its accuracy – but understood that it has been widely circulated through the Internet. Subsequent inquiries indicated that is the case and a partial copy of the transcript was provided to the News Sentinel Wednesday on condition that the source not be named.
The transcript includes DesJarlais telling his pregnant patient, who is not identified by name, “You told me you’d have an abortion, and now we’re getting too far along without one…. If we need to go to Atlanta, or whatever, to get this solved and get it over with so we can get on with our lives, then let’s do it.”
At another point DesJarlais says, “You lied to me about something that caused us to be in this situation and that’s not my fault, it’s yours.”
Replies the woman: “Well, it’s your fault for sleeping with your patient.”
The two discuss at some length whether DesJarlais or the woman initiated their relationship, which began when she came to see him for a foot problem. The woman asks that DesJarlais not tell his wife of the relationship, but the doctor says he feels obliged to do so if the abortion is not performed promptly. He also suggests there is a chance another man could be the father.
“The bottom line is this is a situation neither one of us wants to be in and it can be fixed,” DesJarlais says.
The woman asks that DesJarlais go with her to obtain the abortion and they discuss at some length the timing of a trip and how DesJarlais can make it without his wife knowing.
The doctor also discusses his emotional distress.
“Well, I’ve been going crazy. I mean, if Susan could talk to you, she’d tell you I’ve been psychotic for months over this. I don’t sleep at night. I mean, it’s like I’m trying to build my family back together just waiting for it to fall apart and it’s been eating me apart,” DesJarlais says.
The most recent campaign financial disclosures by DesJarlais and Stewart showed the Republican with $615,693 cash on hand versus $188,813 for Stewart.
Stewart acknowledged Wednesday his own voting record on abortion issues as a state senator has been mixed – voting in favor of a Republican-sponsored amendment to the state constitution that would open the door to the Legislature putting more restrictions on abortion, while voting for Democrat-sponsored amendments that would limit the scope of future legislative efforts. Stewart said his emphasis was on preventing the need for abortions and “we don’t do that by politicizing the issue.”
That contrasts with DesJarlais publicly declaring a strong anti-abortion position when “he made his own choice” in a real situation.
“The news we got today is about hypocrisy,” said Stewart.
Said Jameson in his statement on behalf of DesJarlais:
“Desperate personal attacks do not solve our nation’s problems, yet it appears that there are those who choose to continue to engage in the same gutter politics that were characterized by national media as the nastiest in the nation just two years ago. Since the congressman’s opponents cannot attack him on his independent, conservative and pro-life record in Congress they have once again resorted to pure character assassination.”
Tennessee Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion organization, earlier this year refused to endorse either DesJarlais or Stewart. The group did endorse the re-election of all other Republican congressmen in the state. The group had endorsed Davis in 2010.
In an email, Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, explained the non-endorsement of DesJarlais:
“In particular, pro-life Tennesseans were disappointed that Dr. DesJarlais refused to join other members of Tennessee’s delegation in co-sponsoring the legislative priority for Right to Life, the D.C. Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act… (which) would have prevented abortions past 20 weeks gestation in the District of Columbia except to save the mother’s life.”
Harris declined comment on Wednesday’s revelations.