Rep. Scott DesJarlais remained mostly quiet Thursday, as fallout continued to swirl from allegations that the freshman, pro-life Republican impregnated a former patient and pressured her to have an abortion.
Despite the relative absence of communication from both DesJarlais and members of his office Thursday, the congressman attempted to pivot any hint of a scandal to his advantage—issuing an email to supporters in an effort to turn the news into a fundraising opportunity for his re-election bid.
The brief email, signed by the congressman, states for the first time his opinion that the allegations were "false attacks," and pins their origin on the campaign of his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Eric Stewart.
It then asks readers for their money.
"Just as the 4th District did in 2010, they will reject these nasty claims, but we need your help to fight back against these false attacks," the email says. "You have stood by me time and time again, and now, I ask for your support. Please donate online to help us fight back against these Eric Stewart/Lincoln Davis-style politics and return the election to things that matter to you and your family."
DesJarlais makes no mention of what the "desperate attempts" entail—accusations pulled from more than 200 pages of court documents.
Nor did the congressman ever acknowledge that despite having information from his prior divorce being used against him in his campaign two years ago, none of it included any details similar to those revealed in Wednesday's report, which centered on the patient and abortion.
Apart from granting two morning talk radio interviews, the congressman offered no personal comment regarding a Huffington Post report published Wednesday which revealed a secretly recorded phone conversation between him and an unnamed mistress. Requests for transcripts or recordings of the radio interviews by Nooga.com were declined.
Taped while the congressman was undergoing a bitter divorce with his former wife in 2000, the phone transcript quotes DesJarlais encouraging the woman terminate an unexpected, unwanted pregnancy. DesJarlais describes the situation as "a predicament neither one of us wants to be in."
"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 woman with whom he allegedly had the affair, who was also one of his patients.
He later questions whether he is actually responsible for the pregnancy.
According to The Huffington Post, "three independent sources" verified that the congressman made the tape himself, but were unnamed.
Dr. Bruce Oppenheimer, professor of public policy and education for Vanderbilt University, said it appeared the congressman was attempting to turn negative, nationwide coverage into a positive for his campaign.
"Is there enough unrest that he has to address it, or does he just ignore it?" Oppenheimer said. "So far the strategy seems to be just ignoring it. That might work, but that's particularly dangerous. There's a strategy where you try to take advantage of negative coverage, but it can be counterintuitive."
With four weeks remaining till Election Day, DesJarlais would appear hardly short-changed for money. At most recent filing, the congressman reported nearly $600,000 cash-on-hand to put towards his re-election, nearly four times the amount of his Democratic opponent Eric Stewart.
The congressman's campaign was not the only group to brush off any controversy stemming from the allegations.
Adam Nickas, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, issued a statement not only dismissing the recent allegations as "smear" tactics, but also claiming they originated from Stewart's campaign.
"This is the same type of desperate smear campaign used by Lincoln Davis in 2010 which voters overwhelmingly rejected, and we trust they'll reject these same attacks by Democrat Eric Stewart in 2012," Nickas said. "The state party is focused on electing Republicans statewide who are working to improve our economy and get more people back to work, which is exactly where voters are focused right now as well."
Medical license in jeaopardy
Beyond his aspirations for re-election, the charges against DesJarlais could prove costly in another area—his own medical practice.
Portrayed in campaign ads as a Jasper physician who "earned his patient's trust," the congressman would be in violation of several guidelines put forth by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners were there any truth to the alleged affair—putting his medical practice license in jeopardy.
The board, which exists to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of Tennesseans, considers any sexual contact with a current or former patient to be misconduct and a violation. In the event of sexual contact with a patient not currently receiving treatment, the board considers a violation to have occurred when any use or exploitation of "trust, knowledge, influence or emotions" is employed by the physician acting in the relationship.
Even in the event of consensual sexual behavior between a physician and patient, the board's guidelines state that it "does not change the nature of the conduct nor lift" any statutory prohibition on the actions.
In the transcript, DesJarlais is quoted saying he and the woman had "mutually agreed" to the affair, despite their doctor-patient relationship. The congressman's medical license is set to expire in 2013.
There is no history of disciplinary actions listed on his state practitioner profile.
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