In an e-mail sent Friday to supporters, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais attempted to spin recent allegations that he pressured a mistress to have an abortion as a last-minute ploy meant to distract voters from important issues.
“We all knew it would happen,” DesJarlais said, as he framed the allegations as an attack from Tennessee Sen. Eric Stewart, his Democratic opponent in the 4th Congressional District race.
“Stewart knows that he cannot attack me on my independent, conservative and pro-life record in Congress, so he has resorted to false, personal attacks,” he said. “I had hoped that this election would be a discussion on issues important to Tennesseans, but instead, we are left to fight back against these desperate attempts at character assassination…”
The freshman Republican, who has refused to discuss issues in debates with Stewart, said his opponent is using the allegations to “run from his out-of-touch positions and far-left beliefs and straight to the same, old gutter politics” that 4th District voters rejected during the 2010 campaign against former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis.
Two years ago, DesJarlais defeated the longtime Democratic congressman in a hard-fought battle that was described by several political analysts as one of the nastiest races in the country.
At the time, DesJarlais faced controversy when court motions filed in November 2000 surfaced detailing a bitter divorce from his first wife, Susan DesJarlais, who accused him of intimidation, harassment and physical abuse.
DesJarlais has consistently rebuked those allegations since the documents became public.
In 2001, a judge granted the couple a divorce, noting both behaved unfavorably in the eyes of the court.
The most recent allegations, which came to light Wednesday, involve an undated phone call that is believed to have taken place a few months before the divorce was finalized, according to transcripts obtained by The Huffington Post.
The transcripts allegedly reveal DesJarlais had an affair with a female patient and later pressured her to have an abortion – a situation that could have possibly violated ethical guidelines set forth by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners.
According to the guidelines, any sexual contact that occurs between a physician and patient constitutes misconduct.
Aside from any of the legal implications, Stewart said Wednesday that these allegations raise serious questions as to whether DesJarlais is fit to hold office.
“In my opinion, these revelations disqualify DesJarlais from representing the 4th District,” Stewart said during a press conference outside of the Calvary International Barber and Hair Styling Shop on East State Street in Murfreesboro.
The comments were made following an informal meeting with voters, a majority of whom expressed concern about the economy and avoided comments on the political wrangling among opponents.
“This is about hypocrisy,” Stewart said, noting that the scandal should not result in abortion being used as a “wedge issue” because the allegations involving DesJarlais raise legitimate questions about his integrity as a congressman and doctor.
“DesJarlais has consistently presented himself as a pro-life congressman who is espouses family values,” he said. “He took an oath to be faithful in marriage and broke that oath. He took an oath as a physician to do no harm and broke that oath. … He has proven that he cannot be trusted by voters in the 4th District.”
Even though DesJarlais has largely remained silent since the story broke, he has admitted that the two dated. During brief interviews with the media on Thursday and Friday, he said that the woman turned out not to be pregnant.
“There was no pregnancy and no abortion,” DesJarlais said. “I was attempting to use strong language to get her to tell me the truth.”
Although he noted that much of his behavior was reprehensible during the two years spent fighting his former wife in divorce court, DesJarlais said he has moved on from that chapter in his life.
He also pointed out that he has since remarried, noting he has enjoyed a “near perfect” marriage to his second wife, Amy DesJarlais, for more than five years.
“I would hope that when the voters judge me,” he said, “they judge me on the marriage I have now.”