With his wife by his side, Garn yesterday told reporters: "I expect to suffer public humiliation and embarrassment. Some lessons are hard to learn. This is something I should've done back in 2002 but I was scared. I did not want to be publicly judged by one of my life's [worst mistakes]."
Maher detailed the incident in an interview with the paper. She said that in 1985, age 15, she was employed by Garn, then 30, at his business, Pegasus Records and KSG Enterprises. Garn, she said, "struck up a relationship" with her, as the paper puts it. One night, he took her to a location in Salt Lake City -- it's unclear where -- where they both got in the hot-tub nude.
Garn yesterday told reporters about the incident. "I can unequivocally tell you there was no physical contact, there was no touching, there was no intercourse, there was none of those things. It simply did not occur. I'm not trying to downplay what did occur but I want to make it very plain."
Nonetheless, Maher, who now lives in New Hampshire, blames the incident for triggering the subsequent unraveling of her life. She has struggled with drugs and drinking, and has had mental health problems.
The two had no more contact until 2002, when Garn was running for Congress (he would ultimately lose the GOP primary to Rob Bishop, who won the seat and remains in Congress). Maher was still "a mess" at the time, she said. After she began contacting reporters and legislators with her story, Garn and his wife arranged a meeting with Maher and her Mormon bishop. Garn offered to pay her $20,000, but Maher's husband insisted it wasn't enough, and she demanded $150,000. Garn paid up, and had his lawyer draft a non-disclosure agreement in which she pledged not to go public with her story.
Garn denied yesterday that he was paying Maher for her silence. "I treated this no different than any other event in my life ... no different than any other event where someone feels they had been wronged," he said. "I would sit down and work it out with them and that's what I did in this case. He added: "Whether there was an election in place or not, that would have been the case."
But the payment didn't put the matter to rest. They saw each other several times in the last few years, and in 2008 Maher emailed Garn's son, writing, "nothing will stop me from getting exactly what this matter needs, and that is justice and compensation."
And in recent days, Maher has been contacting reporters and legislators again about the incident. Garn called Maher this week, but she hung up on him. That led to Garn's public confession last night.
Maher, who is going through a difficult divorce and custody battle in New Hampshire, said she is going public with her story for her own peace of mind.
After the confession, lawmakers lined up to embrace Garn and his wife.
Late Update: Maher now says Garn is lying about their being no contact during the hot-tub incident, although she won't offer specifics, other than to say: "Let's just say this. He really loves to massage." She also says that Garn was her 4th-grade Sunday school teacher.