published Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Political Notebook: DesJarlais reveals Health Department probe

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais
Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., told a Nashville television station Friday that state Health Department investigators have already spoken to him about complaints that he had sex with at least two patients, one of whom he urged to get an abortion in 2000.

DesJarlais acknowledged in the interview with WKRN-TV reporter Chris Bungaard that officials are actively investigating the complaints, one of which was filed during his 2012 campaign by the Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The other was filed by the Tennessee Democratic Party.

"Again, this is a 13-, 14-year-old issue, and I am working with them in full cooperation," the congressman said, adding in response to another question that he is trying to resolve the complaints. "Yes, they had some questions, and I answered them."

Some of the issues, stemming from his bitter 2001 divorce, surfaced during his 2012 fall election with Democrat Eric Stewart. Others came after a transcript of the divorce trial was released by a Hamilton County judge a week after the Nov. 6 election upon a motion filed by Democrats.

The 4th District congressman's political troubles have multiplied since. A fellow Republican, state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, announced this week he was running against DesJarlais in the 2014 GOP primary, charging DesJarlais "deceived and betrayed" constituents and pledging "I will never embarrass you."

At least two other Republicans, state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lacassas, and Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, are weighing bids.

The congressman, who previously announced that God has "forgiven me" and asked fellow Christians and constituents to consider doing the same, said, "I think that as you go through life, we make mistakes, learn from them, we try to move and be better for it."

DesJarlais, who has previously stated his personal life took a change for the better after the 2001 divorce and his subsequent remarriage, said he has "talked to constituents back home and for the most part, and for the most part people I have talked to have been very supportive, pleased with the job I did in the last Congress."

He noted that during the 2012 campaign "we saw a lot of TV both nationally, the presidential race, and certainly here in Tennessee with a lot of politics of personal destruction. I think people are ready to focus on the problems at hand."

As for his fellow Republicans lining up to take him on next year, DesJarlais said, "we all know its marathon and not a sprint. We may see a lot of interesting entries as we move forward."

The conventional wisdom among Republican operatives is the congressman's re-election chances increase the more GOP candidates pile into the contest.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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