Oprah Winfrey and her eponymous television network provided senators last month with footage of a 1990 interview with the ex-wife of Andrew Puzder, President Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, in which she discussed allegations of domestic abuse that she has since recanted.
The interview with Lisa Fierstein has factored into the vetting of Puzder to serve as head of the Labor Department, but is now seen as a less critical piece of evidence given that she recanted her allegations in a letter to senators in January. Puzder has always denied the allegations.
Representatives of Winfrey and her Oprah Winfrey Network confirmed Tuesday that they were contacted by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in January and asked about footage of an interview with Fierstein, who appeared in disguise to talk about domestic violence. The episode was provided as part of a formal request for episodes of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” that aired between 1985 and 1990 and dealt with the issue of domestic violence, according to the network.
“Approximately 20 episodes were made available for the committee members to view in confidence,” a network spokeswoman said in an email. “OWN did not provide copies or transcript of the episodes and has not provided information about the identities of anyone who appeared in these episodes. Given information of this investigation has been made public by the committee, OWN is making this statement to be clear about what the company provided to congressional investigators.”
Senate aides clarified that although the committee made a general request for episodes on domestic violence, ultimately senators watched only the episode featuring Fierstein in disguise, aides said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters Monday that she has seen the episode. Spokespeople for Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) confirmed that they also have seen the interview.
Despite the intrigue, Fierstein has gone to great lengths to recant her comments and explain why she did so.
In a letter to the Senate HELP Committee in January, she defended Puzder’s character, writing that news reports about the incident “are now being used to tarnish Andy, and have hurt beyond description for me and my children.”
“Andy is not and was not abusive or violent,” Fierstein wrote in the Jan. 18 letter to Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “He is a good, loving, kind man and a deeply committed and loving father.”
She explained that the couple struggled with finances and with her diagnosis of acute rheumatoid arthritis during her last pregnancy. After they divorced and details of the split became public, Fierstein said producers of Winfrey’s program contacted her.
“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,” Fierstein explained.
“I regret my decision to appear on the show,” she added. “I never told Andy about it and in fact I insisted that I wear a disguise. I did not mention his name. Nor mine.”
Winfrey’s team did not immediately reply to questions about whether the network might publicly release the footage or re-air it at a later date.
Puzder’s confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday.