Scott DesJarlais shrugs off abortion scandal, holds D.C. fundraiser

WASHINGTON -- Powerful congressional Republicans shrugged off a lingering abortion scandal Tuesday, hosting a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., as he escalated his quest for a third term.

Six prominent Republicans, including three House committee chairmen, facilitated a closed-door DesJarlais event at an upscale Capitol Hill restaurant Tuesday evening. DesJarlais and two aides declined to comment as they walked in the door, so it was unclear how much campaign cash surfaced.

A few hours before DesJarlais allies gathered to dine and donate, one Republican leader praised the Jasper resident's work ethic.

"DesJarlais has been a good, solid member of the [agriculture] committee," House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said. "Very positive force in the farm bill markup last year. That's really all I can say."

Lucas ended the interview when asked to comment on news that rocked Tennessee's 4th District last year.

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A medical doctor, the anti-abortion Jasper, Tenn., congressman generated headlines in October and November after interviews and documents revealed he had sex with his patients and encouraged one to get an abortion. DesJarlais won a second term, but court documents later showed he supported his ex-wife's two abortions while he was married to her.

All of that seemed very distant Tuesday. For $500 or $1,000, DesJarlais supporters enjoyed 90 minutes of "hors d'oeuvres, beverages and conversation" at the Capitol Hill Club, according to the event invitation.

A Democratic "super PAC" that financed advertising against DesJarlais criticized the fundraiser and the lawmakers who attended Tuesday's event.

"The very fact that these Republican leaders are so anxious to cozy up to a disgraced congressman for whom touting the values of faith and trust proved nothing more than lip service should tell voters everything they need to know," said House Majority PAC spokesman Andy Stone.

Committee chairmen have helped DesJarlais in previous times of peril. Records show Lucas and fellow House leaders Darrell Issa of California and John Kline of Minnesota collectively donated $8,000 to DesJarlais after the congressman publicly confirmed he pressured a patient-lover to get an abortion.

Last year Issa, Kline and Lucas each received perfect legislative scores from National Right to Life Committee, a top anti-abortion lobby. The chairmen were DesJarlais "hosts" Tuesday night.

Other special guests at the DesJarlais event included Republicans Jim Jordan of Ohio, Tom Price of Georgia and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, according to the event invitation. Price is a fellow physician-turned-politician whose website emphasizes "protecting the sanctity of life."

State Sen. Jim Tracy has launched a primary campaign against DesJarlais. Several former DesJarlais donors have endorsed Tracy. Financial disclosures will be available in mid-April.

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfree or 423-280-2025.

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