Labor secretary nominee Andy Puzder’s ex-wife is lashing out at his critics as they dredge up details of their messy divorce – including her past allegations of abuse – ahead of his high-stakes Senate hearing.
The fate of fast-food heavyweight Puzder’s nomination could well rest on whether his hearing can settle bipartisan concerns about his treatment of women, including ex-wife Lisa Fierstein. Members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee recently viewed episodes of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” where Fierstein appeared in the mid-80s to talk about domestic abuse. Aside from strong Democratic opposition, four Republican senators remain on the fence about Puzder’s nomination.
Fierstein, though, is now speaking out against efforts by an activist group to get her divorce documents released, calling it an “unfair invasion” of her personal life and saying, “None of the events from so far in the past have anything to do with Andy’s kindness and generosity and his ability to serve his country.”
While her abuse allegations have returned to the headlines, Fierstein retracted those claims decades ago. “My privacy has been invaded, my family has been hurt, my children are suffering and I have become the victim of the media’s malice and determination to find ugliness where only kindness and love exists,” Fierstein said in a statement provided to Fox News.
She also wrote, in a private email sent to Puzder in late November and obtained by the Fox News Investigative Unit, that he was “not abusive” and she had been “counseled” at the time to make the allegations.
“I regretted and still regret that decision and I withdrew those allegations over thirty years ago,” she wrote. “You were not abusive. I will most definitely confirm to anyone who may ask that in no way was there abuse.”
Sources on the Senate committee also told Fox News that, so far, the Oprah interview is not seen as a “watershed” moment, especially in light of Fierstein’s latest comments. Further, sources on the committee caution that the reluctance of the four Republican senators -- Susan Collins of Maine, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – to commit to Puzder has to do with giving him a fair hearing.
A source said the committee has wanted to take its time with the nomination hearing because “there is some troubling information for this nominee, that’s not a secret.”
“I almost always wait until there's a hearing, unless I know the individual well,” Collins said. “I've had two conversations with Mr. Puzder. I think there are outstanding questions that I’m sure will be delved into at his hearing.”
Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which franchises the fast food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.
Much is at stake for Puzder, however, at the committee level.
He would need the votes of all Republicans on the committee for his nomination to proceed to the Senate floor favorably. And any more than two Republicans opposing him on the floor could prove fatal in a final vote.
Senate Democrats largely have opposed most of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees so far, but in recent days have escalated their criticism of Puzder -- perhaps sensing his nomination could be derailed with cooperation from just a few Republicans.
Puzder’s treatment of women is sure to come up at Thursday’s hearing, along with his stances on the minimum wage and other labor-specific issues.
Women’s groups have charged that Carl’s Jr. ads featuring Paris Hilton and Kate Upton were sexist. As for the Oprah interview tapes, the network told Fox News they were provided “in confidence” to the committee.
Puzder’s ex-wife, though, is standing firm in support of him, saying “enough is enough” to media and activist groups trying to expose more details about their divorce.
Fierstein had dinner with Puzder and his current wife Dee last Thursday at the 801 Chophouse in Clayton, Mo. A spokesman for Puzder said despite the ugly divorce, today “they are all good friends. They spend a lot of time together and this was a chance to just be family. But the calls from reporters and the attempts to unseal her divorce documents, have been very difficult for Lisa.”
Puzder’s opponents are pointing to details reported at the time as well as civil court documents dated May 22, 1986, seeking damages. Fierstein claimed, among other accusations, that Puzder “assaulted and battered [her] by striking her violently about the face, chest, back, shoulders and neck, without provocation or cause.”
The Riverfront Times in 1989 also reported that police responded to an altercation in 1986 in which his then-wife claimed he threw her to the floor; Puzder reportedly denied using violence. She later reportedly sought a protective order against him. According to the same article, Puzder acknowledged neighbors called the police to their apartment in the late 1970s amid a shouting match.
But Fierstein publicly retracted her abuse allegations in a Nov. 6, 1991, letter in which she stated her “major regret was the retainment of counsel who knew Andy personally and did not share his views on certain social issues and therefore the advice I received may have been biased.”
Those social issues? Puzder was considered the top pro-life attorney in Missouri -- and the wife of Fierstein’s lawyer, Dan Sokol, was active in pro-choice activities at the time.
Reached at his home Wednesday night, Sokol said the idea he was biased because of politics is “preposterous” and there was “no question she was a victim of domestic violence,” though he doesn’t recall specifics of the case from three decades ago.
As for Fierstein’s Oprah appearance, she told Fox News: “I regret my decision to appear on the show… I was hesitant but encouraged by friends and became caught up in the notion of a free trip to Chicago and being a champion of women and women’s issues.”