Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) has alleged in court filings that her now-ex-husband abused her while they were still married.
Ernst said in divorce documents that Gail Ernst subjected her to emotional and physical abuse during their nearly 26-year marriage, the Des Moines Register reported on Tuesday. This included a physical assault after she confronted him about his alleged affair with their daughter’s babysitter, according to Ernst.
“Gail has been very cruel. This has been an extremely painful journey,” Ernst wrote in an October affidavit, according to the Register.
Details of the divorce documents were first reported Monday by Cityview, a Des Moines alternative newspaper. A judge sealed most of the documents the next day upon request from Joni Ernst’s attorney, meaning the Ernsts’ affidavits are no longer available to the public.
The senator announced the divorce in August, and it was finalized Jan. 3. Iowa law says divorce documents are automatically made public when the divorce is finalized, but that parties can request to make some records private.
“I am a survivor, and I fully believe that our survivors have the right to keep their stories to themselves if they don’t want to share those stories,” Joni Ernst told the Register on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, I have been forced to share my story.”
Ernst filed an affidavit in response to her husband requesting alimony in the divorce. The finalized settlement does not require either side to pay alimony.
In the affidavit, she recalled a history of emotional abuse, saying her husband became angry as she progressed in her career. He would also refer to his wife as “my retirement plan” in reference to their 17-year age difference, according to the senator’s affidavit.
The senator said in her affidavit that she turned down the opportunity to be President Donald Trump’s running mate because her husband “hated any successes I have,” The Guardian reported on Tuesday.
She also detailed more mistreatment, according to reports on the affidavit.
Ernst was Montgomery County auditor from 2005 to 2011 after serving as company commander with the Iowa National Guard in Kuwait and Iraq. During her time as auditor, Ernst said in her affidavit that her husband had a “special friendship” with their daughter’s babysitter. Ernst also claimed she had to flee to her mother’s house with her daughter after an argument about the alleged affair became physical.
The next morning, Ernst met with a victim’s advocate at the courthouse and received a throat and head examination, according to her affidavit. She said the victim’s advocate wanted to take her to the hospital, but that she declined out of embarrassment from the incident, the document said.
Ernst wrote that her husband agreed to attend counseling “to repair our marriage,” but only if she didn’t discuss the alleged assault at the sessions.
“I stupidly agreed,” she wrote in the affidavit.
Last July, Ernst found email exchanges between her husband and “a long-time girlfriend,” according to her affidavit. She wrote that she began a “downward spiral of not sleeping and eating, and I rapidly lost … about 13 percent of my body weight.”
In his response to Ernst’s affidavit, Gail Ernst denied having an affair but did not mention the alleged assault. He also accused his wife of having an affair with a soldier during her deployment and of dating other men in Washington, D.C., according to court filings.
“She admitted to the affair, said she was sorry and begged me not to say anything,” Gail Ernst wrote in his affidavit.
The senator was the first woman in Iowa to be elected to Congress. She defeated Democrat Bruce Braley in 2014 and has said she plans to seek a second Senate term in 2020.
Ernst has spoken against sexual assault in the military and domestic violence during her time as a senator.
“What I want to focus on is being the best United States senator I can be,” Ernst said Wednesday, acknowledging that “a lot of those incidents in my past have influenced the types of policies that I work on.”
This story has been updated with Joni Ernst’s response to her divorce documents that were briefly made public.