The wife of Republican Congressman Scott DesJarlais said Wednesday accusations the pro-life, family-values lawmaker had affairs outside of his first marriage and encouraged one of his girlfriends to get an abortion don't accurately reflect his true character.
Amy DesJarlais made her first public comments to the News Sentinel regarding the accusations against her husband, who faces a tough re-election battle in Tennessee's conservative, rural Fourth District.
Three weeks ago, the online news site The Huffington Post reported that DesJarlais, a physician, had an affair in September 2000 with a woman who was one of his patients while he was in the midst of his divorce. The news site published the transcript of a telephone conversation in which DesJarlais pressured the woman to get an abortion.
DesJarlais has not denied the affair or the accuracy of the transcript, but says he knew the woman wasn't pregnant and that he was trying to get her to admit it.
In her interview, Amy DesJarlais said in DesJarlais has been a good husband and father during their decade-long marriag, and that she has not witnessed any of the philandering or erratic behavior ascribed to him in divorce papers from his first marriage a dozen years ago.
"What's in the divorce records is not the husband I've had for 10 years," she said. "I've never seen that side of him."
Mrs. DesJarlais said she and the couple's three children -- Tyler, Ryan, and Maggie -- have been hurt by the public airing of the allegations during her husband's political campaigns.
DesJarlais is facing Democrat Eric Stewart, a state senator from Belvidere, Tenn.
"I realize, of course, that this can get ugly," Amy DesJarlais said of politics. But, she stressed, "our marriage is very firm, positive."
Many details of DesJarlais' divorce records, including charges that he had at times behaved in a violent and threatening manner and once held a gun in his mouth for hours, became public during his first congressional race in 2010 against then-incumbent Lincoln Davis, a Democrat.
DesJarlais won that race and was considered the favorite to win a second term this year, but new allegations that have surfaced in recent weeks have thrown his political future into doubt.
A second woman came forth after the Huffington Post story, telling the Chattanooga Times Free Press that she also dated DesJarlais for six months in 2000 while he was her doctor and that they smoked marijuana during the relationship. The DesJarlais campaign has dismissed the report as inaccurate.
DesJarlais admitted to four affairs in his divorce papers, but says he and his wife at the time, Susan DesJarlais, had an agreement that they could date other people while they were separated. Their divorce became final in 2001.
In her interview, Amy DesJarlais stood by her husband and called him "very honest, very loyal." He has not cheated on her in their 10 years of marriage, she said.
Amy DesJarlais said she has read her husband's divorce papers. "I know everything about Scott; he knows everything about me," she said. "The divorce records speak nothing of his character."
Amy DesJarlais said she did not know her husband when he was married to his first wife. They met in early 2002, after his divorce was final. She was working as a nurse at Grandview Medical Center in Jasper, Tenn. The future congressman was not affiliated with the hospital but would sometimes come by to check on patients, she said.
"We knew instantly that we were a perfect match," she said. "Five months later, we were married."
When DesJarlais decided to run for Congress, the couple realized the sordid allegations from his divorce might become campaign fodder, she said, but "we opted not to seal the records."
Voters should judge him on "the husband and father that he has been in a 10-year marriage," not the allegations made during an old divorce, she said.
(Reach Scripps Howard News Service Washington correspondent Michael Collins at collinsmshns.com.)