Cunningham inches back into public as Army confirms probe

FILE - In this Oct. 1, 2020, file photo, Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham talks during during a televised debate with Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., in Raleigh, N.C.  Cunningham inched back into the public sphere on Wednesday, Oct. 7, a day after The Associated Press reported the he had an intimate encounter this summer with a public relations consultant. Within hours of the military disclosing that it is investigating Cunningham, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, he rejected the idea that the race with Tillis had turned into a referendum on his character, even while expressing remorse for extramarital activity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, Pool)
FILE - In this Oct. 1, 2020, file photo, Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham talks during during a televised debate with Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., in Raleigh, N.C. Cunningham inched back into the public sphere on Wednesday, Oct. 7, a day after The Associated Press reported the he had an intimate encounter this summer with a public relations consultant. Within hours of the military disclosing that it is investigating Cunningham, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, he rejected the idea that the race with Tillis had turned into a referendum on his character, even while expressing remorse for extramarital activity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, Pool)

RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham inched back into the public sphere on Wednesday, a day after The Associated Press reported the Democratic contender had an intimate encounter this summer with a public relations consultant.

Within hours of the military disclosing that it is investigating Cunningham, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, he rejected the idea that the race with Republican Sen. Thom Tillis had turned into a referendum on his character, even while expressing remorse for extramarital activity.

"I’ve made it clear that I’ve hurt my family and that I’ve disappointed my supporters, and I’m taking responsibility for that,” Cunningham told WNCN-TV, which found him in the parking lot of a Raleigh coffee shop. “I’m very clear that this campaign isn’t about my personal life; it’s about the people of North Carolina; it's about the issues that are important to North Carolinians, and that’s what I’m staying focused on.”

Cunningham acknowledged late last week that he and the woman — both of whom are married — had exchanged sexually suggestive text messages. On Tuesday, the AP, citing previously undisclosed texts and additional interviews, reported the relationship extended beyond texts to an intimate encounter as recent as July.

“The Army Reserve is investigating the matters involving (Lt. Col.) James Cunningham,” Lt. Col. Simon Flake said in an emailed statement Wednesday morning that cited Cunningham by his official first name. “As such, we are unable to provide further details at this time.”

Flake did not explain why the Army is investigating or how Cunningham’s relationship with the woman might affect his military career. Adultery has long been a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Last year the wording was broadened to include any “extramarital sexual contact.” Service members can face a maximum penalty of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and confinement for a year.

Cunningham and his campaign had been largely quiet since he acknowledged the texts last Friday and apologized. But that changed Wednesday with comments by him and his allies.

Cunningham campaign spokesperson Rachel Petri said in a news release that the candidate “will participate in this process," a reference to the military investigation — but she also noted that it “does not change the stakes of this election or the need for new leaders who will fight for the issues North Carolinians care about.”