Corker, Sewanee professor have differing stories about spat on Chattanooga trail

Corker, Sewanee professor have differing stories about spat on Chattanooga trail

November 14th, 2016 by Andy Sher in Politics National

Senator Bob Corker speaks during the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Professor of Biology David Haskell inspects plant life on the grounds of Sewanee: The University of the South.

Professor of Biology David Haskell inspects plant life...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

In this Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, photo, President-elect Donald Trump, left, stands with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus during an election night rally in New York. Trump on Sunday named Priebus as his White House chief of staff. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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Photo by The Associated Press/Times Free Press.

More about Trump's team

NASHVILLE — So, a U.S. senator and a University of the South professor are taking separate hikes along Chattanooga's Stringer's Ridge Sunday when they encounter each other on the trail and Republican President-elect Donald Trump's name comes up.

From there, the accounts differ on the ensuing verbal dustup between Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sewanee biology professor David George Haskell, a Pulitzer Prize nonfiction finalist for his 2012 book "The Forest Unseen."

In a post on his blog, Haskell describes how he was hiking when he recognized Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor who endorsed Trump, was briefly considered as a running mate and whose name has been floated as a potential pick as Trump's secretary of state.

"I greeted [Corker], then told him how deeply ashamed I was to be from a state where our senator will not denounce Trump for boasting of sexual assault," wrote Haskell, who confirmed his account later in a telephone interview. "Corker has been silent on this matter and on the racism and hate that the T-monster has spewed into our country these last months."

And Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Corker's response?

"If you don't like it, then you should leave the state," Haskell states Corker replied.

The senator's office, however, offered a much different account of what transpired.

"While hiking alone yesterday afternoon on Stringer's Ridge, Senator Corker was aggressively approached by Professor Haskell, who was hiking with three other individuals," Corker spokeswoman Micah Johnson said in a statement.

Johnson said the professor "began shouting at Senator Corker in a profanity-laced tirade while pointing a finger in his face and told the senator that he was embarrassed to live in a state where the citizens voted to overwhelmingly elect Donald Trump.

"Senator Corker calmly suggested to the professor that he did not have to live in Tennessee if he did not wish to do so," Johnson continued, before adding, "Senator Corker believes that if the leadership of Sewanee witnessed the exchange, they would be sorely disappointed in the behavior of someone tasked with leading students."

During the campaign, a videotape surfaced in which Trump, a billionaire and former TV reality star, boasted of groping women. Trump apologized and has denied groping women, but at least 10 women stepped forward to say he had inappropriately approached them.

Corker did issue a statement at the time in which he said, "these comments are obviously very inappropriate and offensive and his apology was absolutely necessary."

Haskell said in a Monday telephone interview that he had friends who witnessed the exchange.

"Disagreement about politics is one thing, and that's not at all upsetting in any way," he said. "But a senator to tell a constituent to leave the state" was an action "beyond the pale."

"I really feel very disappointed at Bob Corker as my representative," he added.

In a later blog post, Haskell disputed Corker's assertions as "absolutely untrue" that he told the senator he was "ashamed to be from a state that voted for Trump. I said I was ashamed that Senator Corker had stood by Trump through all of Trump's vile pronouncements. Ashamed of Corker: yes. I said nothing about the votes of my fellow Tennesseans."

As for the senator's assertion that he was "profane and aggressive," Haskell wrote that "I'm afraid my profanity was no match for that of Mr. Trump and I showed no aggression. Anger, for sure, but I stood at a respectful distance and listened to Corker. First Amendment speech is not aggression, it's a right. Grabbing women, punishing them for abortions, egging on rallies toward violence: now that's aggression."

Haskell said he isn't disputing Trump's victory — the billionaire businessman and former TV reality star carried Tennessee with 61 percent of the vote — but "merely that I was ashamed of my senator."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.


This story was updated Nov. 14 at 11:50 p.m. with more information.


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