Trump’s Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder just withdrew his nomination today because of “growing doubts among Republican senators that he can be confirmed,” seemingly as a result of domestic violence accusations by his former wife, Lisa Fierstein.
Fierstein initially appeared on a 1990 episode of the “Oprah Winfrey Show” in disguise as a way to anonymously describe the abuse, without completely outing herself to family, friends, and colleagues. The Oprah Winfrey Network just released a copy of the tape to Congress and Politico. According to the site, the episode, “High-Class Battered Women,” aired March 1990. Wearing a wig and glasses, she claimed Puzder physically abused her. After she went public, she claimed her husband said:
“‘I will see you in the gutter. This will never be over. You will pay for this.”
The episode itself is difficult to find online, as only a few senators were given access. Republican Senator Susan Collins actually told Politico that she “couldn’t even have my staff view it,” while Democratic Senator Patty Murray says she was “deeply troubled” by the video.
Fierstein ended up filing for divorce from Puzder in 1987, claiming he threw her to the ground, prevented her from calling police, and punched her in the face while they were driving home. Puzder, of course, denied most of the allegations, including punching his wife in the car, although he did admit to drunk driving onto a curb, saying in a deposition, “I think it had to do with the liquid refreshment we had with our dinner more than anything else.”
In the episode, she reportedly stated:
“The most frightening thing was leaving because once I made that break, and once I made it public, and remember my ex-husband was a public figure—everyone knew him and knew what he was doing. And once I made that public, he vowed revenge. I wound up losing everything. Everything. I have nothing. He has a Porsche and a Mercedes Benz. He has the home. He has everything. He was an attorney and he knew how to play the system.
Most men who are in positions like that don’t leave marks. The damage that I sustained you can’t see. It’s permanent. They don’t hit you in the face. They’re too smart. They don’t hit you in front of everyone.”
Fierstein did retract her allegations about eight months later, even writing a letter to the Senate HELP Committee. In the letter, she wrote:
“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. I regret my decision to appear on that show.”
She also later claimed she went on the show as a leverage tactic in her divorce–although many survivors of domestic violence and abuse often retract statements–or even go back to their abusers. The fact that she wore a disguise on TV shows that she was afraid–and ashamed–which is not the behavior of a woman who is lying. As someone who survived sexual assault and domestic abuse, I, like many victims of abuse, knew my abuser and in fact was dating my abuser.
Because of this, and the fact that Puzder threatened her after the episode aired, I’m not surprised she retracted her statements. Many victims often feel shame, fear, anxiety, depression, and may even doubt their own testimony if their abusers gaslight them. This is all common behavior.
I stand with survivors of abuse–it’s important to make the choice to believe women who come forward with their stories. Women don’t gain anything by sharing their stories of trauma and violence–if anything, they are usually ostracized and disbelieved by their communities. Also, in general, if someone is coming forward, it means they understand the legal and social ramifications–and are prepared for them.
Charlotte Fedders, the woman who appeared on the segment alongside Fierstein and provided Politico with the tape, stated firmly that she believes Fierstein, saying:
“I totally believe that she was abused. Powerful men have a way of convincing you that they didn’t do it. I do believe that she was abused.”
It’s also important to note that unsealed court documents from the late 1980s state that Puzder “assaulted and battered [her] by striking her violently about the face, chest, back, shoulders, and neck, without provocation or cause,” causing “severe and permanent injuries.”
I think those documents, and Fierstein, speaks volumes for themselves.