Rep. Scott DesJarlais remains silent amid allegations he pressured mistress to have abortion

Authored By James Harrison

Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a physician from Jasper, did not challenge allegations surfacing Wednesday that he impregnated one of his former patients and pressured her to have an abortion 10 years ago.

The news comes four weeks before the pro-life congressman faces an aggressive challenger in a newly drawn district in his first campaign for re-election.

Read the transcript

Click here to access a copy of the transcript, or scroll to the bottom of this article.

The transcript
A transcript, first reported by The Huffington Post, details a phone call between DesJarlais and his mistress. The call was purportedly recorded by DesJarlais in September of 2000. 

The conversation portrays a desperate doctor scrambling to change the outcome of a secret affair and preserve a crumbling marriage.

“You told me you’d have an abortion, and now we’re getting too far along without one,” DesJarlais is quoted saying, as he speaks to the unnamed woman with whom he allegedly had the affair. 

Additionally, the transcript finds the congressman telling the woman that “the clock is ticking” and at one point suggesting they secretly arrange a trip to a clinic in Atlanta where she can have the pregnancy terminated. 

“The point is we’re in this predicament,” he says. “Neither one of us wants to be in it. I want some information. For some reason, you don’t want to give it to me. 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.”

Despite the allegations, DesJarlais, whose website brands himself as a politician who thinks “all life should be cherished and protected,” did not refute the transcript’s contents when asked for comment Wednesday. 

Issuing a statement on behalf of the congressman, press secretary Robert Jameson dismissed the news report as “gutter politics” and “character assassination.” Jameson suggested the published story was the regurgitation of information in reports used against the congressman during his 2010 bid against former Rep. Lincoln Davis, which focused on the fallout during his prior divorce rather than his commitment to serve as an elected official.

“This is old news from the last election cycle that Tennesseans have already widely rejected,” Jameson said. “Desperate personal attacks do not solve our nation’s problems, yet it appears that there are those who choose to continue to engage in the same gutter politics that were characterized by national media as the nastiest in the nation just two years ago. Since the congressman’s opponents cannot attack him on his independent, conservative and pro-life record in Congress, they have once again resorted to pure character assassination.”

Further attempts by to reach DesJarlais were unsuccessful.

Legislative record
Since being elected to office, the congressman has repeatedly voted in favor of pro-life legislation, including voting to repeal pro-abortion components of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and increasing legal protections for pro-life health care providers.

The congressman has also voted to prohibit federal funds from being used to perform abortions, along with training physicians to conduct them, and has supported cutting federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

But the congressman’s record was not enough for him to receive an endorsement from the 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.

Political repercussions
Dr. Bruce Oppenheimer, professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, said that exposure resulting from the report could be especially damaging to the congressman, considering past reports of low name recognition for the freshman in portions of his own district.

“He’ll get national visibility for this, whether he wants it or not,” Oppenheimer said. “You’ve got to do damage control now if you’re the DesJarlais campaign. You’ve got to ask forgiveness and talk about your weakness. But I don’t know how the constituency will react.”

As news of the transcript continued to play out in national news publications, there was no direct response from the congressman or followup from his office.

The origin of the document is unclear. Although requests by to The Huffington Post to reveal its source were declined, an Associated Press report said the transcript was part of a 200-page memorandum of court records detailing a divorce between DesJarlais and his former wife. 

Portions of those records were made known during the congressman’s 2010 campaign against former 4th District Rep. Lincoln Davis-but none of that information suggested details similar to those revealed in Wednesday’s report.

Davis, who represented the 4th District from 2003 to 2011, told he had no knowledge of how the document surfaced Wednesday-despite admitting having known of its existence after it was anonymously delivered to his office two years ago. 

“I didn’t initiate contacts with anyone or try to verify anything,” Davis said. “I made no contact with anyone. I’m not running for Congress; I have no interest in getting into political races . I have no idea how they got it.”

The former congressman said he personally did not see the transcript until after losing the election and added that its contents, along with the fact that DesJarlais had taped the conversation himself, were verified during a meeting he had with DesJarlais’ former wife last spring. 

“She said that it did happen, that he made the recording and that he let her listen to it,” Davis said. “He did the recording and let her listen to it.” 

Details of the conversation not published by The Huffington Post include comments by DesJarlais that he and the woman “mutually agreed” to their affair, despite their relationship as patient and doctor. It also finds the congressman questioning whether he is responsible for the pregnancy, as he suggests the woman had slept with another man days earlier. 

The report also does not detail if the woman actually had an abortion. 

Hours after its publication, DesJarlais’ Democratic opponent, Eric Stewart, who faced an earlier election controversy this summer regarding unpaid tax liens, issued a statement saying the content of the report disqualified the congressman from being a trustworthy representative.

[DesJarlais] has continued to hold himself out to the public as someone who is pro-life and pro-family, and today doesn’t deny that as a medical doctor he had an affair with a patient, got that patient pregnant, and then begged and pleaded with her to terminate the pregnancy,” Stewart said. “Scott DesJarlais has proven over and over again that he cannot be trusted, and this latest revelation is absolutely disqualifying.”

Repeated invitations by Stewart to debate have been declined. 

The election is Nov. 6.

Updated at 12:02 p.m. on 10/11/2012 to add clarification to a sentence.