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Watchdog group working to unseal Puzder’s divorce records before his confirmation hearing

Andrew Puzder, chief executive of CKE Restaurants, takes part in a panel discussion titled “Understanding the Post-Recession Consumer” at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 2012. (Fred Prouser/Reuters)

With labor nominee Andrew Puzder’s confirmation hearing just days away, lawmakers and advocacy groups are seeking more details about domestic abuse allegations from his ex-wife, claims that she has since recanted but that they argue will shed light on whether he is “fit” to head the labor department.

A watchdog group, Campaign for Accountability, on Tuesday received the bulk of the couple’s divorce records, which included widely reported allegations that his ex-wife Lisa Fierstein was struck “violently” in the face, chest, back and neck. But the group is still working to make public a portion of the documents that have been sealed since the late 1980s and that they expect will contain more details of how Puzder allegedly treated his ex-wife.

“The U.S. Senate and the American public are trying to evaluate Mr. Puzder’s fitness to serve in one of most powerful offices in our government,” said Daniel Stevens, executive director of Campaign for Accountability, adding that he hopes the information would be made available within 48 hours. “His entire record should be subject to public scrutiny.”

The group is hoping to have a decision before Puzder’s confirmation hearing, which is scheduled for Thursday morning.

George Thompson, a spokesman for Puzder, called the efforts to unseal the documents a “publicity stunt in order to smear Andy Puzder at the expense of Lisa and their family.”

Thompson pointed to a Feb. 3 statement from Fierstein in which she called the motion to unseal the records an invasion of privacy. “I am disgusted, hurt, angry and vehemently opposed to this unfair invasion of my personal life,” she said, adding that she is not a public figure. “No one has a right to invade my privacy especially in such a vicious and cruel way.”

Puzder is likely to face questions about the allegations at his hearing. Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wa.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) will hold a news conference Wednesday morning with women’s groups, including the National Women’s Law Center, to discuss claims of sexual harassment from workers at CKE Restaurants, the fast-food franchise Puzder oversees.

Senators said this week that they have reviewed footage of an “Oprah Winfrey Show” interview with Fierstein, who once appeared on the program in disguise to recount the multiple times that she said Puzder physically assaulted her in the 1980s. Fierstein retracted the allegations, and Puzder has always denied that he abused her.

The labor nominee has faced early criticism from Democrats and liberal groups who are concerned about workplace violations at Puzder’s burger franchise Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., sexually suggestive ads featuring bikini-clad models eating burgers, and his opposition to wage regulations.

His nomination has also received tepid support from some Republicans. At least four Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee are on the fence about supporting his nomination.

But White House officials and top Senate Republicans are standing by Puzder. Sen. Lamar Alexander ­(R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate HELP committee, told reporters Monday that he plans to vote in favor of Puzder’s nomination, adding that Puzder’s ex-wife “has said it was all not true.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters last week that he is “enthusiastically” supporting the nominee.