By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who opposes abortion rights, testified during divorce proceedings that he and his former wife made a mutual decision for her to have two abortions, according to divorce transcripts released Thursday.
DesJarlais, who practiced medicine before going to Congress, easily won a second term in Tennessee’s conservative 4th District despite previous revelations that he once urged a patient with whom he was having an affair to get an abortion.
On his campaign website, DesJarlais espoused an anti-abortion position, saying: “All life should be cherished and protected. We are pro-life.”
DesJarlais’ spokesman and campaign manager did not return messages seeking comment.
Court documents from the 2001 divorce trial were released by the state Democratic Party, which had hoped to make them public before the Nov. 6 election. They couldn’t because the 679-page transcript of testimony wasn’t complete. (Note: The transcript is available HERE.)
According to DesJarlais’ testimony, his ex-wife Susan had her first abortion because she was taking an experimental drug that carried potential risks in pregnancy. The second came during problems in their relationship while they were living together before their marriage.
“Things were not going well between us and it was a mutual decision,” DesJarlais testified. “I don’t think that it was easy for either one of us. I think it was a very difficult and poor choice and I think that there are probably regrets both ways.”
DesJarlais’ first wife had supported earlier efforts to release the court records, though her attorney said Thursday he hadn’t had time to review them enough to comment.
DesJarlais in the court proceedings acknowledged having sex with at least two patients and he said he prescribed painkillers for at least one of them.
“Yes, she is a patient and I wrote her prescriptions,” DesJarlais said.
He urged one of those patients to get an abortion during a phone conversation that he recorded. The congressman denied during the campaign that he had recorded the call, but in his 2001 testimony he acknowledged that he did. DesJarlais said he was only trying to get her to admit she wasn’t pregnant.
The transcripts show that woman testified under oath that she had been pregnant. She declined to answer whether she had an abortion but said she didn’t have a child by DesJarlais.
The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington last month filed a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Health arguing that DesJarlais conducted an inappropriate sexual relationship with a patient. DesJarlais said at the time that he doesn’t expect anything to come out of the complaint.
While on the stand, DesJarlais testified that he had sexual affairs with eight different women during 1999 and 2000 while his divorce was pending. For some of the time, he was attempting to reconcile with his estranged wife, who also admitted to having sexual relations with multiple men during the same time.
As late as the day before the election, DesJarlais attorney Harvey Cameron angrily disputed Democrats’ assertions that the congressman had relationships with eight women.
“I can assure you it’s not in the transcript, according to the depositions at least,” he told reporters after court hearings in Chattanooga that resulted in partial release of the transcript being blocked.
DesJarlais’ volatile first marriage was also a focal point of his first successful bid for office when he defeated Democratic incumbent Lincoln Davis in 2010. Davis ran TV ads that cited court records to allege DesJarlais once held a gun in his mouth for three hours and that he repeatedly pulled the trigger of an unloaded gun outside a room where his wife had locked herself in.
Susan DesJarlais said her then-husband had held the gun in his mouth in response to finding out that his mistress had become pregnant.
“He stuck a gun in his mouth and almost killed himself,” she testified. “You don’t think that he was upset?”
DesJarlais explained in court proceedings that he wasn’t considering killing himself.
“It was never a loaded gun. It was never a suicide attempt,” he said. “It was an attention-seeking act.”
He also denied that he dry-fired a revolver outside the locked room.
“I opened the gun up. It is a revolver. And when you open it and turn it, it clicks. I wanted to make sure it was not loaded and it was not loaded,” he said. “I’m assuming that was the sound she heard.”
During the campaign Republican officials largely kept their distance from DesJarlais, declining to weigh in on the allegations. The congressman himself disappeared from the campaign trail, though he ran a barrage of television ads linking his Democratic opponent to President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey told reporters before the release of the transcripts Thursday that voters in the deeply conservative district may have chosen to bide their time until a Republican challenger emerges.
“There are some that voted thinking next time there’ll be somebody else in the primary — we don’t want Pelosi to be speaker, so one more time we’ll vote for Scott,” he said. “He’ll have a primary opponent. I mean, he knows that.”