Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill denied a story posted to a right-wing blog claiming he had an affair with a legal assistant, who had also accused him of using racist language, The Washington Post reported.
Merrill said the story was merely a false smear meant to end his bid for the U.S. Senate.
But hours later, Merrill was forced to admit the story was true after “an AL.com reporter confronted him with a recording of an explicit phone call between Merrill and the woman,” The Post reported.
“It’s clear that I had an inappropriate relationship with her, and it is not something that I am proud of or something that is something that — I’m very disappointed in myself,” Merrill, who is married with two children, told AL.com. “I’m also disappointed that I allowed my family to be embarrassed by this action. And it’s something that I certainly will always regret because of the pain that it has caused my family.”
On the October 2020 recording, Merrill told the woman he was ending the affair.
“So, the last time that we had sex, that’s the last time ever?” the woman asked.
“It’s supposed to be the last time ever,” Merrill replied. “It should be the last time ever.”
Once confronted with the recording, “Merrill admitted to the affair and announced he would not be seeking election to public office next year,” The Post said.
The revelations threw a wrench into the race to succeed Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), who is retiring. Merrill was one of several likely GOP contenders for the seat, including Republican Rep. Mo Brooks, who has promoted election fraud claims and was endorsed by former president Donald Trump on Wednesday.
Merrill, a native of Wedowee, Ala., comes from a family deeply engaged in public life. His father was a state judge and other family members have served as lieutenant governor, state representatives, and Alabama Supreme Court justices.
This is not the first time Merrill has faced allegations of sexual improprieties, the report noted. Rumors that he’d had a consensual sexual encounter with a woman swirled in 2010.
The allegation stemmed from depositions in an unnamed woman’s divorce case, in which she testified that she and Merrill had engaged in oral sex, AL.com reported. Merrill told reporters that the woman had kissed him, unbuttoned his shirt, removed his belt, and fondled him, but denied oral sex occurred.
The allegation did little to stymie Merrill’s political aspirations, which continued with his 2019 campaign for U.S. Senate, where he was one of five GOP candidates hoping to unseat incumbent Democrat Doug Jones. In the midst of that campaign, Merrill made headlines for his comments about LGBT rights.
“We’re too interested in homosexual activities,” he said to a crowd of supporters at a town hall in Fort Payne, Ala., in July 2019. “We’re too interested in seeing how this family’s finding a way to mess on this family or to see how people are trying to date on TV, or having wife-swapping on TV.”
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