Heitkamp apologizes for naming sexual assault, abuse victims in newspaper ad

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, apologized Tuesday after publicly naming victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse in an attack ad aimed at her Republican challenger -- this, after some of the women said they did not give permission for the campaign to name them, and others said they'd never experienced abuse.

Heitkamp released a statement apologizing for the gaffe.

“We recently discovered that several of the women’s names who were provided to us did not authorize their names to be shared or were not survivors of abuse,” her statement read. “I deeply regret this mistake and we are in the process of issuing a retraction, personally apologizing to each of the people impacted by this and taking the necessary steps to ensure this never happens again.”

Heitkamp is facing a tough battle for re-election against Republican Kevin Cramer. The ad, which appeared in several North Dakota newspapers on Sunday, was an open letter to Cramer criticizing comments he'd made before Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court.

The ad was signed by more than 125 people, though some just listed their initials.

Several women came forward to criticize Heitkamp.

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Keeley Beck, one of the women who was included in Heitkamp’s ad, told Fox News on Tuesday that she “didn’t even know what it was about initially” when she learned that her name was on the list.

Most women who were erroneously included on the list had a mutual friend who supported the open letter, Beck said. But she said she never gave  permission to add her name and “didn’t even click the link” to open the letter at first.

“I’m angry. Everyone has a story and they should be able to be the person to tell it if they choose to,” Beck said.

Despite Heitkamp's assertion that she was reaching out out to those affected by the ad, Beck said the campaign had not contacted her to apologize.

She said she personally reached out to her campaign but didn't receive a call back.

Lexi Zhorela, 24, told The Associated Press she was listed in the ad because she had been tagged on Facebook by a friend who knew she had been the victim of sexual assault. "I'm furious," she said. "I have only shared my story with a couple of people in confidence. ... I didn't want it blasted for the world to see."

Zhorela said she'd intended to vote for Heitkamp in November but will "definitely not now."

After discovering her name listed on the ad, another woman, Kady Miller, wrote on Facebook: “I don’t even support Heidi Heitkamp and I am not a domestic abuse survivor. Should this even be legal??” The Washington Post reported.

“I don’t even support Heidi Heitkamp and I am not a domestic abuse survivor. Should this even be legal??”

— Kady Miller (Facebook)

Heitkamp told Rob Port, a conservative blogger, on his radio talk show Tuesday that “it should have never happened” and admitted that she hadn’t seen the ad before publication.

She said she was investigating how her campaign obtained the names but said they may have come from a "Facebook feed" that was forwarded to the campaign – something several of the women have already said.

Heitkamp’s highly contested seat is seen as critical for control of the closely divided Senate. Hers is one of 10 Democratic seats up for re-election in states Trump carried in 2016.

Fox News Lukas Mikelionis and The Associated Press contributed to this report.