Puzder's ex-wife defends Labor nominee against abuse allegations

Story highlights

  • Andy Puzder's confirmation process has been delayed because of an extensive background check
  • The head of the parent company of Hardee's and Carl's Jr. is Donald Trump's Labor secretary pick

(CNN)The ex-wife of Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder is privately telling senators that she made a mistake decades ago in leveling domestic abuse charges against him and appearing in disguise on Oprah Winfrey's TV show to talk about her situation.

In a deeply personal and emotional letter to senators and obtained by CNN, Puzder's ex-wife Lisa Fierstein said she regrets the decisions she made decades ago as the two struggled with their marriage. She contended that she received bad advice from an attorney with a political "vendetta" when she pressed charges in the 1980s -- and that she was a guest on Winfrey's show in part because she wanted to go on a trip to Chicago.
"What we should have handled in a mature and private way became a contentious and ugly public divorce," Fierstein said to members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, of her ex-husband, who heads the parent company of Hardee's and Carl's Jr.
    She did not elaborate on why the attorney would have a vendetta against Puzder, nor did she identify the attorney.
    Dan Sokol, an attorney who represented Fierstein at the time, told Time Magazine in December that the allegations that Puzder physically abused his then-wife were "credible and believable." He added that it was described to him as an "ongoing pattern with several episodes of physical violence."
    Sokol, who is now retired, could not be immediately reached for comment by CNN.
    Puzder has denied that he had been abusive to his wife.
    The letter comes as Puzder's confirmation process has been delayed because of the extensive background check the Office of Government Ethics is conducting to review any potential conflicts. And it comes as Puzder acknowledged to senators that he previously hired an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper, forcing him to pay back taxes.
    Fierstein told the senators that an attorney misguided her and urged her to make poor choices at the time of the divorce, "which subsequently set off a chain of events at that time, which are now being used to tarnish Andy."
    Fierstein told the senators that when the two were married in 1973, they were under financial pressure and had difficulties paying their bills, a struggle that became more pronounced as they had children and she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis during her last pregnancy.
    One night, she recalled, she said things "that I cannot even today repeat."
    "The argument was loud and ugly," she said.
    Fierstein added that in the mid-to-late 1980s, she appeared on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" to discuss the issue of abuse. She appeared in disguise and did not tell Puzder, she said.
    "Upon reflection, I believe I became a pawn in the debate and believe strongly that my attorney's advice was tainted as a result of his own personal agenda," she writes.
    She said she was "hesitant" to join the show but was "encouraged by friends and became caught up in the notion of a free trip to Chicago" and to speak out on women's issues.
    "I regret my decision to appear on that show," Fierstein said.
    Asked for comment Tuesday, a Puzder spokesman sent a statement from his ex-wife.
    "Andy and I have since forgiven one another for the hurt we caused each other," Fierstein said in the statement. "Our families have been united in love and friendship and we have moved on and put the past where it belongs."