NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee congressman, in his first public comments since reports that he once urged a mistress to get an abortion, said Thursday that the woman did not turn out to be pregnant.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a freshman Republican seeking re-election next month, did not further dispute a transcript of a recorded phone conversation in which he appears to urge the woman to terminate the pregnancy. His remarks came in an interview with WTN-FM host Ralph Bristol
"I don't mind telling people that there was no pregnancy, and no abortion," DesJarlais said. "But I also don't mind telling people that this was a protracted two-year divorce back in 1999 and 2000.
"There was some difficult times, for sure," he said.
The undated phone recording appears to have been made before DesJarlais' divorce from his wife, Susan, was finalized in 2001.
According to the transcript, DesJarlais, a Jasper physician, told the woman that he was 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 in the transcript appeared to blame the woman for becoming pregnant.
"You lied to me about something that caused us to be in this situation, and that's not my fault, that's yours," he said.
The woman responded: "Well, it's your fault for sleeping with your patient."
DesJarlais blamed "a disgruntled, defeated ex-congressman, a vindictive ex-wife, and a desperate Democratic candidate" for dredging up details from his past.
The DesJarlais campaign has dismissed the details as "old news" and personal attacks by the congressman's opponents from the last election cycle. But 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.
The State Republican Party has issued a statement that appears to back the embattled congressman, though other GOP leaders, including Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, declined to weigh in on Thursday.
"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. When pressed about when he might speak with DesJarlais, Haslam said he wasn't sure.
Alexander said it wasn't his practice to "go around telling people what to do about issues like that.
"That's between the congressman and the voters in his district and his opponent," he said. "I know the voters of his district very well, and they're perfectly capable of making their own minds up."
Regardless of whether he's re-elected, DesJarlais' medical license may be at risk.
According to Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners' guidelines, the state recognizes the American Medical Association's ethics rules. And under those rules, "sexual contact that occurs concurrent with the patient-physician relationship constitutes sexual misconduct."
The same goes for former patients, according to the AMA rules.
"Sexual or romantic relationships with former patients are unethical if the physician uses or exploits trust, knowledge, emotions, or influence derived from the previous professional relationship," the rules say.
DesJarlais faces Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart this year, who has said the congressman has "proven over and over again that he cannot be trusted."
DesJarlais on his website espouses a platform that opposes abortion, saying: "All life should be cherished and protected. We are pro-life."
He has since remarried, and said he has enjoyed a "near perfect" marriage for the last decade.
"I would hope that when the voters judge me, they judge me on the marriage I have now," he said in the radio interview.