Rep. Scott DesJarlais returned to Tennessee Friday, after presiding over a brief pro-forma session of the House.
DesJarlais, entangled in a scandal stemming from allegations that he impregnated one of his former patients and encouraged her to have an abortion, returned to a drastically different campaign landscape four weeks before he seeks re-election.
The congressman and members of his office have begun to speak publicly on the matter. Commenting to multiple news outlets, DesJarlais said a former patient he slept with had never become pregnant, and that no abortion had ever taken place.
"I don't mind telling people there was no pregnancy and no abortion, but I also don't mind telling people that this was a protracted, two year divorce back in 1999 and 2000," DesJarlais said, in a talk radio interview Thursday. "There were some difficult times for sure… I would hope that when voters judge me, the judge me on the marriage that I have now."
The congressman did not deny any other content of a secretly-recorded transcript of a phone conversation between him and the unnamed woman, detailed at length in a Huffington Post report which brought the allegations to light on Wednesday.
Although multiple attempts by Nooga.com to reach DesJarlais were unsuccessful, the congressman's press secretary Robert Jameson answered several questions regarding his response to the situation. Jameson said that during the conversation, the congressman knew that the woman was indeed not pregnant.
Jameson said that DesJarlais had been using "strong rhetoric" when he repeatedly suggested she terminate a pregnancy.
"During the conversation, Scott was incredibly frustrated, and used strong rhetoric in hoping to get the woman to admit that there was no pregnancy," Jameson said.
Jameson added that to describe the congressman's relationship with the patient as an "affair" was erroneous, along with the use of the word "mistress" to describe her. Jameson said that the conversation, recorded in September of 2000, had taken place after DesJarlais and his former wife had been separated and agreed to see other people.
"Scott and his ex-wife had been separated for some time before this incident occurred," he said. "There was a clause in their separation that said that both she and Scott could see other people. She saw other people, he saw other people. To label this as an affair or to say that it was a mistress is inaccurate."
Jameson also said that the congressman had been recorded against his knowledge—going against earlier reports which alleged DesJarlais had made the recording himself. He added that the transcript—part of sealed court documents pertaining to his 2001 divorce—had been obtained without his consent.
When asked if the transcript included any information that was false or inaccurate, Jameson said it did not.
"The congressman acknowledges the transcript," he said.
DesJarlais' side of the story will not likely deter his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Eric Stewart, or the Tennessee Democratic Party from ceasing their criticism of the pro-life congressman. It is not the first time the congressman's opponents have opted to use facts stemming from his prior divorce against him—former Rep. Lincoln Davis ran campaign advertisements relying on similar court records in 2010.
On Friday, Stewart held a press conference calling on fellow lawmakers to denounce DesJarlais, and Democratic Party chairman Chip Forrester released a statement condemning the congressman for "unethical and immoral behavior."
The congressman has declined numerous invitations from his challenger to debate, including a forum held in McMinnville on Thursday. A staffer for the DesJarlais campaign previously told Nooga.com the congressman would not be able to attend the event because he would preside over a pro-forma session of the House on the same day, but the session took place Friday.
The election is Nov. 6.
UPDATE: DesJarlais has posted an open letter to his constituents on his Facebook page.
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