Desjarlais scandal hurts his 2014 bid

The revelation of further lurid details surrounding Rep. Scott Desjarlais' (R-Tenn.) 14-year-old divorce has thrown his future in Congress into question, but House leadership remains mum on the extent and severity of the situation.

On Thursday, the Chattanooga Times Free Press published a 2001 trial transcript from DesJarlais's divorce, in which "DesJarlais had sexual relationships with at least two patients, three coworkers and a drug representative while he was chief of staff at Grandview Medical Center in Jasper, Tenn."

The transcript also reveals that he supported his wife's two abortions and prescribed drugs to one of the patients with whom he had an affair.

And it corroborated aspects of DesJarlais' past affairs that came out earlier this year, which threatened to derail his reelection bid.

It's unclear whether Republican leadership will ask the congressman to step down. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) haven't yet publicly commented on the situation, and their offices did not respond to requests for comment.

But the swirling scandal is reminiscent of the situation that prompted Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to ask then-Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) to resign.

Weiner faced a growing chorus of questions and criticism for various lascivious interactions with women online, and he was ultimately called upon by multiple Democratic lawmakers to step down, a call which he eventually heeded.

Now, Desjarlais' backstory includes perhaps more shocking details, but he as yet has not received nearly the same level of public condemnation.

Democrats and Republicans alike have remained largely silent on the situation, as the full details came out just before the Thanksgiving holiday, and lawmakers and much of the Washington press are focused more on negotiations surrounding the fiscal cliff and higher-profile scandals.

But there are already indications from Tennessee Republicans that this is likely to cause Desjarlais trouble in 2014.

Gregory Gleaves, a former executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party who was there when Desjarlais was elected and worked with his campaign, said the situation was "definitely problematic," as scandals of this magnitude aren't typical in Tennessee politics — but that the details weren't necessarily the most problematic aspect of the scandal.

"His past actions are reprehensible but Tennesseans are pretty forgiving if somebody asks for forgiveness. His problem is that he apparently misled his voters for the last three weeks when this came out -- that's what's going to cost him in the end, if this comes to haunt him," he said.

According to the Free Press, during his campaign Desjarlais said via his Facebook that a call between him and a former mistress in which he pressured her to have an abortion, which sparked the initial reports, was "recorded without my knowledge."

However, the transcript reveals he and his wife recorded the conversation, which they were trying to use to force the mistress to admit she wasn't pregnant.

His Facebook page appears to have been scrubbed of any activity from the campaign.

The Tennessee Republican Party has not yet weighed in on the situation, with Executive Director Adam Nickas saying only that "we cannot speak for the Congressman on this issue."

"Any comment would have to come from him," he wrote in an email.

But Tennessee GOP Vice-Chairman Mary Littleton expressed support for the congressman.

"I appreciate the way he's voted in the past," she said, but declined to comment on whether the scandal made him unfit to serve.

It's clear, however, that the situation remains an issue in Tennessee.

Republican state Rep. Jim Cobb, a member of the Tennessee GOP State Executive Committee, said that while he personally supports the congressman, other Republican state legislators had distanced themselves from Desjarlais during their campaigns, because "you don't want to bring extra weight onto your own race."

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), elected alongside Desjarlais to the class of 2010, repeatedly refused to respond to questions concerning the situation when reached on his cell phone and directed The Hill to his spokesman, who later declined to comment.

Gleaves said the scandal is unlikely to cause the congressman to step down at this time, and a spokesman for Desjarlais said he has no plans to do so.

“Voters sent Congressman DesJarlais back to Washington to focus on the important issues facing our nation – not a 14-year old divorce,” said Robert Jameson, Desjarlais’ communications director.

But Gleaves said that Desjarlais is likely to face a fierce primary challenge in 2014, and that he’ll have to handle the situation well now to prevent fallout in the future.

“If he's going to have a problem, it's going be during the primary. People are waiting to see how he's going to respond to this,” he said.