Iowa Sen. Ernst says she turned down Trump during VP search
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Sen. Joni Ernst says she turned down President Donald Trump after interviewing to be his running mate, according to a court filing that describes an “extremely painful journey” that led to her divorce from a man she alleges was abusive.
Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, wrote in an affidavit for her divorce proceeding that after Trump interviewed her in 2016 to be his vice president, “I turned Candidate Trump down, knowing it wasn’t the right thing for me or my family.” The filing doesn’t explicitly say whether Trump asked her to join the ticket.
Trump interviewed Ernst at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, in July 2016 as he was considering potential running mates. Ernst told reporters later that she made clear she was interested in continuing to serve Iowa in the Senate, to which she was elected in 2014 after serving as a state senator and county official. Trump eventually chose Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who is now vice president.
Ernst’s office, the White House and the Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Ernst called her withdrawal from consideration a sacrifice for the good of the relationship with her husband Gail, a retired Army Airborne Ranger who she said wasn’t supportive of her fast-rising political career.
“I continued to make sacrifices and not soar higher out of concern for Gail and our family,” Ernst wrote in the affidavit in October. “Meanwhile, he hated any successes I had, and would belittle me and get angary any time I achieved a goal.”
The filing and several others were made public earlier this month, in accordance with court rules for Iowa family law cases, after Joni and Gail Ernst settled their previously contentious divorce. The couple had been married 26 years and have one adult daughter together.
A lawyer for Joni Ernst filed an emergency motion Monday seeking to seal some of the files after their existence was first reported by Cityview, a Des Moines alternative newspaper. A judge granted the request on Tuesday, which means the public can no longer access the affidavit.
Ernst filed the affidavit in asking the court to reject Gail Ernst’s request that she be required to make monthly alimony payments. She said that she had supported Gail Ernst during his military career, in which they moved several times before settling in Ernst’s hometown of Red Oak, Iowa, but that he hadn’t returned the favor when she entered politics.
“Although Gail seems to think he can live off my salary for the rest of his life, he is doing everything he can to destroy me and ruin my chances for re-election, which would end the gravy train he apparently plans to ride,” she wrote.
Ernst, 48, recently indicated that she will run for a second six-year Senate term in 2020. She alleged that her husband promised to divorce her if she did so — an allegation he denied.
Gail Ernst, 65, filed for divorce in August. In requesting alimony, he noted that he was retired and partially disabled from his military service, saying that his “standard of living” shouldn’t suffer from the split. Joni Ernst’s $174,000 salary as a senator was the couple’s primary income.
The settlement, signed in December and accepted by a judge earlier this month, doesn’t require either side to pay alimony. It granted Joni Ernst the couple’s condominium in Washington, D.C., and Gail Ernst their home in Red Oak.
Before the agreement, both parties made explosive allegations against each other.
Joni Ernst alleged that Gail Ernst had physically abused her following an argument while she was serving as Montgomery County auditor in the 2000s. She wrote that she told the county’s victim advocate, who suggested she seek medical treatment for her throat and head. But she said she was embarrassed and humiliated and kept the abuse quiet, even during marriage counseling sessions.
Ernst said that she was devastated after discovering email messages between her husband and another woman last summer.
“I started a downward spiral of not sleeping and eating and I rapidly lost 17 pounds about 13 percent of my body weight. My staff had to cancel two days of my appointments because I couldn’t function,” she wrote.
Gail Ernst said that he never had an affair and alleges in one filing that she was the one who was unfaithful. He accused Joni Ernst of exhibiting “very bizarre behavior” after he requested divorce, including accessing his email account and sending messages under his name.
A phone number for Gail Ernst was disconnected. His lawyer, Ivan Miller, declined an interview request through an aide.