James Comer, denying allegations of abuse from an ex-girlfriend in Lexington on Tuesday (screengrab from Courier-Journal video stream)
James Comer, with his wife T.J. by his side, denying allegations of abuse from an ex-girlfriend in Lexington on Tuesday (screengrab from Courier-Journal video stream)

Republican gubernatorial candidate and current Agriculture Commissioner James Comer faced a throng of reporters in Lexington on Tuesday afternoon with his wife, T.J., by his side, refuting the allegations of his college ex-girlfriend, who told The Courier-Journal that he mentally and physically abused her more than 20 years ago.

“The notion that I could commit such a horrific offense is simply beyond any semblance of reason,” said Comer. “Yesterday’s article in The Courier-Journal is filled with inconsistencies, implausible scenarios and flat-out lies. Everyone who knows me understands the charges are completely incompatible with everything I stand for, everything that I am.”

In addition to the allegations of physical and mental abuse from former girlfriend Marilyn Thomas, The Courier-Journal published her claim that Comer provided her transportation to and from an abortion clinic. The story also included an allegation from Thomas’ mother, who said Comer called their house at that time and threatened to kill her. Comer denied those claims as well.

“I flatly deny the allegations that we had an abusive relationship,” said Comer. “Those allegations are untrue. I did not drive Marilyn to a medical clinic. I flatly deny that accusation. It is untrue.”

Comer said he and Thomas ended their relationship amicably, citing as proof his claim that Thomas sought him out 10 years after the alleged abuse to meet him while he was visiting New York, giving him an autographed copy of a book.

Asked his opinion of Thomas, Comer said her allegations are false but stopped short of attacking her character. Comer’s attorney went much further in the C-J story, saying “I’ve heard unpleasant things about her personality and mental state.”

Comer criticized the campaign of his opponent in the Republican primary, Hal Heiner, citing a Lexington Herald-Leader story last week that said the husband of his running mate, K.C. Crosbie, interacted with a Lexington blogger who had pushed the abuse allegations online without any evidence. Comer added that “shadowy characters” were behind the abuse allegations surfacing, saying a northern Kentucky grand jury is currently examining whether the blogger had threatened and harassed his family and that of his running mate, Chris McDaniel.

Comer fiercely criticized The Courier-Journal for publishing the story, comparing it to a discredited Rolling Stone story on a gang rape at the University of Virginia; the magazine later retracted that story.

“The fact that The Courier-Journal is publishing this garbage is a reflection on them, not me,” said Comer. “They should be ashamed of this Rolling Stone-style journalism. As this paper descends into irrelevance, they have tried to claim my scalp as a means for their own financial rescue. The Courier-Journal piece is the culmination of a yearlong campaign conducted by my political rivals, a group of shadowy characters who have corrupted Kentucky politics for decades.”

Comer added that his attorneys are considering legal action against “those who have been shopping these lies, as well as The Courier-Journal for publishing them.” He also said that he would cooperate with grand jury prosecutors to “ensure that these House of Cards tactics are banished from Kentucky politics.”

Facing questions from reporters after his statement, Comer said those who have known him for a long time know the allegations are false, adding that “I wasn’t like Obama. I didn’t disappear for two or three months. I’ve always been within 60 miles of Tompkinsville, until I moved to Frankfort.” He didn’t specify what he was referring to.

After Joe Gerth, the C-J reporter who broke the story, attempted to ask a question, Comer refused to answer, replying “any questions besides Joe Gerth?”

Comer said his key supporters are standing by his side and don’t believe the accusations, citing former Congresswoman Anne Northup and Louisville Metro Councilwoman Julie Denton.

Neither Northup nor Denton responded to requests for comment from IL.

Kentucky’s primary election is in two weeks, and Comer touted a new internal poll from his campaign showing him in the lead, though most independent polls have Heiner leading by a small margin. All four Republican candidates for governor, including Matt Bevin and Will T. Scott, are set to debate tomorrow morning on Matt Jones’ widely-popular Kentucky Sports Radio program.

Watch the full Comer press conference below:

***** UPDATE 5:15 p.m. *****

Insider Louisville spoke with Metro Councilwoman Julie Denton — an early backer of Comer who served with him in the state General Assembly — who said she is still 100 percent behind the candidate.

“I’m still a strong supporter of Jamie Comer, and I think all of this is a politically motivated scheme,” said Denton. “I’ve known Jamie Comer too long, and I know a lot of people who’ve known him for so long, that this is not who Jamie Comer is.”

Denton said she questions Thomas’ story for the same reasons Comer gave during Tuesday’s press conference, pointing to the gift — an autographed book — Thomas allegedly went out of her way to give Comer many years after the alleged abuse occurred.

“The woman, as you saw by the book, clearly has initiated contact with him and felt comfortable enough to do that and give him a gift,” said Denton. “And I think this is totally unfounded, and it sickens me that others have stooped to this level.”

Asked if she believes any of Comer’s political rivals put Thomas up to fabricating a story, she replied: “We’ll let the grand jury decide that,” adding “evidently there are some people out there who are pretty vicious and pretty nasty, and I’m not going to stoop to their level.”

Asked if she has heard of any prominent Comer supporters wavering in the wake of the C-J story, Denton said “everybody is still emphatically behind Jamie. I’ve talked to nobody who’s wavering.”

State Sen. Julie Raque Adams of Louisville, also an early Comer supporter, has not yet returned a call from IL seeking comment.

***** UPDATE 6:05 p.m. *****

Asked to respond to Comer’s criticism, The Courier-Journal’s executive editor Neil Budde told IL: “we stand by our reporting.”

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]