After DesJarlais revelations, questions remain

Monday, November 19, 2012 at 12:01am
By Steven Hale and J.R. Lind

(Courtesy Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press)


The remaining unknown details of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ tumultuous 2001 divorce were made public last week by way of nearly 600 pages of transcripts from the proceedings. Though new facts were revealed, the theme was the same — affairs and abortions attested to by the anti-abortion, family values congressman himself.

Nevertheless, a congressman he remains. DesJarlais cruised to re-election on earlier this month, besting his Democratic opponent Eric Stewart by nine points. State Democrats filed a motion to unseal the divorce records just over a week before the election, following revelations that DesJarlais had pressured a former patient mistress to get an abortion. But a judge ruled that the records could not be released until they were fully transcribed, effectively delaying more damaging headlines until after voters went to the polls.

With their release came some answers, and some more questions:


What new information was revealed by the release of the court records?

Transcripts of DesJarlais’ testimony revealed that his former wife Susan had two abortions while they were together, at least one of which he described as a “mutual decision.” The congressman, who has consistently campaigned as an anti- abortion conservative and supported legislation that would restrict abortion rights, went on to testify that it was a “difficult and poor choice” and that there are “probably regrets both ways.”

DesJarlais also testified that he and his wife had an agreement at one point during their separation, allowing each of them to see other people. During that time, DesJarlais testified, had sexual relationships with two patients, three co-workers, and a drug company representative. During his relationship with one of the patients, he bought her an $875 watch, a plane ticket to Las Vegas and also prescribed her medication.

His testimony also reveals that he lost $4,000 gambling during a trip to Las Vegas in May of 2000.

But while the facts contained in the records are more than a decade old, they expose lies the congressman told just weeks ago.

In a Facebook letter to supporters last month, DesJarlais addressed the initial transcript that showed him pressuring a former patient to get an abortion. He said that he had “used rather strong rhetoric” during the phone call in an attempt to get her to admit that she was not pregnant. However, transcripts of that woman’s testimony show that she testified under oath that she had been pregnant, though she declined to reveal the outcome of the pregnancy.

Moreover, DesJarlais said the media had falsely reported that he had recorded the conversation himself, claiming in the same Facebook letter that he had been recorded “unknowingly and without my consent.” According to his own testimony though, he and his former wife recorded the call themselves.


Why didn’t Democrats pursue these records earlier, when they could have been more useful politically?

Upon the release of the DesJarlais divorce records last week, outgoing Tennessee Democratic Party chairman Chip Forrester renewed his call for DesJarlais’ resignation.

“I’m astounded when I read the transcript,” he told The City Paper, “because it’s shocking to read in his own words the admissions that he makes regarding sex with patients, a doctor’s wife, a drug rep, and one patient — he admitted in open court prescribing Darvocet, buying her a plane ticket to Las Vegas, and buying her jewelry.”

Forrester also reiterated the party’s stated motive for pursuing the release of the records.

“This is a dirty politician who should resign, and our interest in releasing this transcript is for transparency so that the voters in the 4th District know exactly what he’s done,” he said.

But why didn’t the party go after the full record of DesJarlais’ damaging past earlier, when it might have had more of an effect on the election they ultimately lost? While revelations about affairs and abortions only surfaced a month ago, allegations from his bitter divorce came up in 2010. Then, his Democratic opponent Lincoln Davis attacked him with allegations that he had dry-fired a gun outside of his former wife’s door (an allegation which DesJarlais denied during his testimony in the divorce proceedings).

So why didn’t Democrats pursue what were sure to be damning court records at some point during the two years since the first allegations emerged? Forrester’s answer suggests it might not have occurred to them.

“We pursued this on the timeline when the information came to our attention,” he said, “which was through the Huffington Post article and when that information broke the transcript of the audio tape where he coerces or induces his patient to have an abortion. That’s when we wanted to unseal the court records.”


What would happen if DesJarlais resigned?

Per Article I of the United States Constitution, vacancies in the U.S. House of Representatives may only be filled by election and not through gubernatorial appointment.

The Constitution is silent on how these elections are held, but in Tennessee, the governor must order a special election, with primaries set 55 to 60 days after the seat becomes vacant and a general election between 100 and 107 days from the date of the vacancy.

 Were DesJarlais to resign before he is sworn in for his second term — this happens Jan. 3 — his congressional seat would be vacant for the lame-duck session, but presumably, since his election has already been certified, he would then have to resign a second time or simply decline to be sworn in for that second term in January, at which point the seat would be vacant, compelling Gov. Haslam to call the special election according to state law.

During periods of vacancy, the Clerk of the House of Representatives maintains an office for the unrepresented district so constituent service isn’t totally eliminated.


17 Comments on this post:

By: Loner on 11/19/12 at 6:50

This article is also being discussed on the Up for Debate board:

By: Loner on 11/19/12 at 6:42

Good morning, Nashville.

What's your reaction to the Scott DesJarlais revelations in the testimony transcripts released last week?

Mr. DesJarlais is a bigger hypocrite and creep than we originally thought. As a physician he committed several egregious ethics violations; we can hardly expect the man to be honest and forthcoming as an elected official.

Would their release have changed the outcome of his re-election had they come out prior to Election Day?

I doubt it. Tennessee is so red, so conservative, so anti-liberal that the electorate would have elected him, regardless of his tainted record and glaring character flaws.

Now that the tea-baggers have a super-majority in the TN state govt. the agenda will be to roll back all human rights, civil rights, GLBT rights, worker's rights, children's rights, animal rights ....all sorts of rights.....except the right to keep and bear arms....and states rights...keep yer powder dry!

Go out and buy a coonskin cap....put a rebel decal on your vehicle....for camouflage...protective coloration....the right-wingers are on a lib-hunt and its open season - no bag limit. Stay safe, my liberal cover....lay low.

By: frodo on 11/19/12 at 8:54

Sigh. It would be so much easy being a Democrat. Candidates on the Republican ticket have to try to appeal to people who have values and beliefs.

By: frodo on 11/19/12 at 9:06

Sounds like the Dem Party leaders weren't the only ones have trouble vetting candidates in recent TN elections.

By: Bellecat on 11/19/12 at 9:23

"But a judge ruled that the records could not be released until they were fully transcribed, effectively delaying more damaging headlines until after voters went to the polls."

Is this standard procedure, or is the judge just a republican?

By: pswindle on 11/19/12 at 10:16

How sad that TN has come to this, if you have a R after your name, you're elected. We will be getting a lot of slime in office if we do not start electing good solid citizens regradless of party. Who on earth would go to him for medical reasons?

By: BenDover on 11/19/12 at 10:30

This is all a strawman intended to throw out a good man so he can be replaced by candidates and congressional leadership that are for those things for which they are criticizing DesJarlais. He never pushed the abortion issue any further than announcing what he says are his current beliefs on the matter and he ran for office as a fiscal conservative which is what he has been and still is.

These critics would have him replaced by someone who advances the party of abortion in his support of people like Nancy Pelosi and Barrack Obama.

By: Loner on 11/20/12 at 6:13

Any doctor who seduces and irresponsibly impregnates his patients and/or his professional associates and also has a record of gun-in-mouth suicide threats is not a "good man", Ben least that's the case outside of the state of Tennessee....maybe the standards are much lower in the Volunteer state, where tea-baggers continue to thrive.

By: Badbob on 11/20/12 at 7:19

"BenDover on 11/19/12 at 10:30

This is all a strawman intended to throw out a good man"

Wow. You don't have a very high standard to define "a good man" do you? Personally, I expect a little more from my friends.

By: Rocket99 on 11/20/12 at 8:13

The doctor needs to go.

For whatever reason, Republicans can do all kinds of bad and illegal things and people love them. Anyone else do it and they want their head.

Again, the doctor needs to go.

By: Moonglow1 on 11/20/12 at 8:39

Moonglow1: Haslam needs to grow a pair and get this degenerate goof ball out of public office. And the TN Medical Association need to strip him of his medical license. He has violated the Hippocratic Oath (sex with patients\giving them drugs\encouraging abortions).

We need the media in droves to further expose this nut case. Obviously he has "exposed" his anatomy to many women. Now we need to expose him nationally. Once the light shines on a cockroach they scurry for cover.

He is a poster boy for these tea fanatics. Hypocrite nut!!!

The nuts in TN that continue to champion him need to be evaluated by a mental health professional. This is stupidity to the n'th degree. But as Loner says, this is the Red State and unfortunately we have a long long way to go intellectually and morally. We are stuck in a prehistoric age down here in the Red State of TN.

By: govskeptic on 11/20/12 at 8:48

TCP, pswindle, The Tennessean, and Chattanooga Free Press have decided
the good Congressman should resign since the Democratic Party Moral
Code so forbids abortions and especially so from a conservative. Good luck
with that, but it appears a pretty large majority of the voters in the 4th district
decided to give the man 2 more years based on his voting record over the
past 2 yrs versus what happened in his personal life 12-15 years ago.

For those of you so embarrassed, get over it and remember the Victorian
Era is over in this state as well as in Massachusetts.

By: Moonglow1 on 11/20/12 at 9:20

Moonglow1: This has nothing to do with the Victorian Era, but everything to do with an elected official's hypocrisy and medical ethics. As an elected official legislating morality to the populace (anti-abortion\family values), he practices the opposite. A hypocrite extrordinaire.

By: GUARDIAN on 11/20/12 at 11:17

So the party that denied GOD at their evil convention, promotes murdering babies, supports America's enemies, supports gay marriage so a man can play with another man's penis instead of their own, supports illegals invading our country and welcomes black racist even to lead their communist party want to keep talking about a divorce that happened 10 years ago....well that makes sense. lmao :-)... GUARDIAN-GOD, COUNTRY, FAMILY and FRIENDS. The American Way.

By: Loner on 11/22/12 at 7:30

Guardian...convert to Judaism, learn ancient Hebrew, make aliyah to Israel, join the would be much happier living with other Bible-believing religious fanatics than living here in "evil America" with a bunch of us Godless liberals mucking up the place......RAUS!

By: Moonglow1 on 11/26/12 at 9:02

Moonglow1: The only question remaining today is why the fat slob morally corrupt guy is still in office and holding a medical license.

By: GUARDIAN on 11/26/12 at 9:14

LOL...First of all "boner" I've been to Israel and worked with the IDF more than a few times and know JEWS are fine people...much more so than evil moronic left who are communist not a former proud member of the "Party of Jackson" who is not nor has he ever been a republican I take offense to your tone and in more honorable days a dual would be called for but since you GODLESS whiners took over my party it has no HONOR therefore I can only wish you to be where the sun never shines... so hold your nose and hold your day soon you may find out if you're right or wrong in your thinking that there is no HELL... :-) GUARDIAN-GOD, COUNTRY, FAMILY and FRIENDS. The American Way.

By: govskeptic on 11/26/12 at 9:22

I agree with the authors: The district voters are the boss and he was re-elected by
a very nice margin, in spite of months of negative press publicity almost daily.