Rep. Scott DesJarlais quiet as records contradict recent comments

Authored By James Harrison

Rep. Scott DesJarlais was silent Thursday as the contents of a decade-old divorce transcript were revealed and showed him offering sworn testimony that contradicts public statements he made during his recent, successful campaign for Congress.

Multiple attempts by to reach DesJarlais or members of his staff on the matter were unsuccessful.

DesJarlais, a 48-year-old physician from Jasper, weathered numerous attacks regarding his past life to secure re-election to Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District by a margin of 12 percent last Tuesday. 

But nine days later, the 679-page transcript acquired and distributed by the Tennessee Democratic Party includes new facts that will undoubtedly be damning to the congressman as he concludes his first term. 

Among the items leveled against DesJarlais in recent months were details that he engaged in sexual relationships with at least two women who were his patients and allegations that he pressured one of them to get an abortion. 

The congressman quickly dismissed the revelations as misleading “smear tactics” and “gutter politics” that had been eagerly distributed by his political opponents. 

Although DesJarlais did acknowledge encouraging an unnamed woman to terminate a pregnancy, he later said he had become “incredibly frustrated” and resorted to using “strong rhetoric” in an attempt to lead her to admit that she had not actually conceived. 

The court record finds DesJarlais being consistent with his explanation that he never believed the woman was pregnant. But it does detail him admitting that a recording of a phone conversation between him and the woman was secretly carried out by him and his former wife, a fact he has repeatedly denied.

“The media wrongly reported that I recorded the conversation myself,” DesJarlais wrote in an open letter to his supporters on Oct. 12. “I was recorded unknowingly and without my consent.”

When asked by an attorney in the transcript if he and his ex-wife arranged to record the phone conversation with the woman, DesJarlais answers, “Yes.”   

The record additionally shows the woman saying she had indeed been pregnant and that she believed the child had been fathered by DesJarlais. 

When asked to relate the outcome of her pregnancy, the woman declined to give a forthright answer.  

“I don’t really care to answer that,” she is quoted saying. “I mean, I don’t have a child by Dr. DesJarlais, and that’s a personal thing . I was pretty much sure he was the father of this child.”

In recent weeks, the congressman has repeatedly said, “There was no pregnancy and no abortion.” 

The trial transcript finds DesJarlais defending his claim by stating he had known that the woman had slept with another man three days before their encounter.  

DesJarlais also says he knew that the woman had undergone a surgical procedure following their sexual relationship, suggesting she would not have been able to have been treated if she had been carrying a child.

The divorce record also includes a potentially condemning new insight into the pro-life congressman’s past-an admission that he supported abortions administered to his former wife on two separate occasions during their three-year marriage. 

Describing the first, DesJarlais is quoted saying his wife had been on an experimental drug at the time, which threatened the health of the pregnancy. 

“There were potential risks,” he said. 

Detailing the second, DesJarlais states the timing was not right for him and his former wife, who had returned from being deployed in Saudi Arabia for Desert Storm.

“Things were not going well between us, and it was a mutual decision,” he said. 

DesJarlais follows his remarks by saying that he regretted the decisions. 

“I don’t think it was easy for either one of us,” he says. “I think it was a very difficult and poor choice, and I think there are probably regrets both ways.”

In recent weeks, the congressman has emphasized his “strong pro-life record” in Congress. 

Since taking office in 2010, DesJarlais has repeatedly voted in favor of pro-life legislation, including votes to repeal pro-abortion components of the Affordable Care Act, increasing legal protections for pro-life health care providers, and cutting funding to Planned Parenthood.

The congressman’s record, however, was not enough to earn him an endorsement from the pro-life Tennessee Right to Life organization, which withheld DesJarlais from being included with his fellow Tennessee Republicans after he failed to return a questionnaire on abortion issues sent by the group. 

The record also details numerous sexual relationships DesJarlais had engaged in with additional women, including three who were his co-workers and one who was a pharmaceutical sales representative to Grandview Medical Center in Jasper, where he worked.  

Along with prescribing prescription drugs to one of the women, DesJarlais also admitted to buying her an $875 watch and an airplane ticket to Las Vegas.

DesJarlais and his ex-wife had agreed to see other people-an agreement his former wife took up with numerous men also detailed in the transcript. 

But DesJarlais’ multiple relationships with women who were his patients and co-workers will put further risk on his medical license. 

Already, a Washington, D.C.-based ethics group has filed a formal complaint against DesJarlais with the Tennessee Department of Health, whose board of medical examiners adheres to guidelines for physician conduct put forth by the American Medical Association.

According to the AMA, “Sexual contact that occurs concurrent with the patient-physician relationship constitutes sexual misconduct.” Even in the event of consensual sexual relationship between a physician and patient, the guidelines state it “does not change the nature nor lift” any prohibition of the actions.

The status of the complaint is currently unknown.

On the final day of his campaign, the pro-life, pro-traditional marriage congressman was holed up in a Hamilton County Courtroom as attorneys for the Tennessee Democratic Party lobbied a circuit court judge for the release of transcript proceedings between DesJarlais and his former wife. 

Although the party was not granted the court records on the eve of Election Day as they had hoped, upon acquiring the transcript this week, Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester released a scathing statement, calling for the congressman to abandon his medical practice and step down from his seat in Congress.

“DesJarlais has acted irresponsibly, his actions are contemptible and his tangled web of deceit is sickening,” Forrester said. “Scott DesJarlais should be barred from practicing medicine, and he should give up his seat in Congress to make way for someone worthy of the trust that Tennesseans instill in their elected officials.”

Forrester also called on Tennessee Republicans, who have shied from commenting publicly on the matter, to address the facts and hold DesJarlais accountable. 

On Thursday, the GOP’s response was minimal.

Adam Nickas, communications director for the Tennessee Republican Party, said in an emailed statement that the party had nothing to add to the topic. 

“We can’t speak for the congressman on that,” Nickas said. “Any questions should be directed toward him.”

With the congressman remaining silent on Thursday, the outcome of the new revelations on his tenure in Congress remains unclear.

With the election in the rearview mirror, a resignation and ensuing special election is unlikely to result in a lost Republican seat in the House because of strong GOP leanings in the district. 

Dr. Bruce Oppenheimer, professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, said that because none of the facts regarding the congressman’s past took place when he was actually a member of Congress, he would unlikely be the subject of a House-level investigation or ethics hearing.

“After last Tuesday, they don’t have to worry about a Democrat winning that race,” Oppenheimer said. “My sense is this suggests DesJarlais has not been totally forthcoming with voters, either two years ago or now, and that people’s private and public lives are often two different things. Since all this occurred before he got to the House, there’s no way the House could investigate him for things he did when he wasn’t a member. The only recourse is within the Republican Party or with other people trying to get him to resign.”