By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Republican Party appears to be standing by a freshman congressman seeking re-election despite the revelations of a recorded conversation in which he urged his mistress to get an abortion.
Adam Nickas, the executive director of the state GOP, said in a statement that the transcript is the same type of “smear campaign” tactics used against Rep. Scott DesJarlais when he ran in the 2010 election, “which voters overwhelmingly rejected.”
Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters after a speech to an automotive conference that he’s not ready weigh in on whether there should be any consequences for DesJarlais.
“I haven’t talked to the congressman, so it’s probably not appropriate for me to speak until I know a little more on that,” Haslam said.
Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said he won’t get involved in the matter.
“I don’t go around telling people what to do about issues like that,” Alexander said. “That’s between the congressman and the voters in his district and his opponent.
“I know the voters of his district very well, and they’re perfectly capable of making their own minds up.”
Nickas said he believes voters will reject the attacks being made in this year’s election.
“The state party is focused on electing Republicans statewide who are working to improve our economy and get more people back to work, which is exactly what voters are focused on right now as well,” he said.
The DesJarlais campaign has not disputed the contents of the transcript, and instead dismissed the details as “old news” and personal attacks by the congressman’s opponents.
While the 2010 campaign did feature allegations raised during his divorce that he intimidated his ex-wife with a gun — and in one instance put a gun in his mouth for three hours — the abortion element was not public knowledge until this week.
DesJarlais on his website espouses a platform that opposes abortion, saying: “All life should be cherished and protected. We are pro-life.”
The Associated Press followed up on the state GOP statement with questions Thursday on whether the GOP plans to distance itself from DesJarlais and the perception of voters in his district, considering the transcript indicates the congressman acted opposite his platform.
Nickas responded: “We’re going to let our statement speak for itself.”
The undated phone recording appears to have been made before DesJarlais’ divorce from his wife, Susan, was finalized in 2001. The transcript is part of a 200-page memorandum of court records detailing DesJarlais’ divorce. The author of the report is not listed.
According to the transcript, DesJarlais told the woman that he is concerned that she hadn’t taken steps toward terminating the pregnancy.
“You told me you’d have an abortion, and now we’re getting too far along without one,” DesJarlais is quoted as saying. “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.”
DesJarlais faces Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart this year. Stewart said at a press conference Wednesday that DesJarlais should be disqualified.
“Scott DesJarlais has proven over and over again that he cannot be trusted and this latest revelation is absolutely disqualifying,” Stewart said.