It took Politico’s Marianne Levine and Timothy Noah more than two months digging through around 90 “Oprah” episodes on two different coasts to finally strike gold.
But when they did, it led to the first Trump administration Cabinet nominee to withdraw from consideration.
Andrew Puzder — CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. — was firmly on track to become Labor Secretary until Levine uncovered a 27-year-old “Oprah” episode about high-profile domestic violence victims, which featured his ex-wife Lisa Fierstein.
While the domestic abuse allegations are not new, it was the tape that finally brought Puzder down. In it, Fierstein — wearing a disguise and using a fake name — described in detail how her husband abused her and threatened to make her life hell if she told anyone about it. (Fierstein has since retracted the accusations saying that she made it all up to gain leverage during their child custody battle).
Levine first heard of Fierstein’s “Oprah” appearance in December, while digging through court records of Puzder’s 1987 divorce. She had stumbled on an article from a local newspaper about the court records, which described Fierstein’s abuse allegations.
Interestingly, the divorce records were sealed at Puzder’s request a day after his nomination. A lawyer happened to mention that he’d heard that Fierstein talked about the abuse on the “Oprah” show.
But the tape was hard to track down. “Efforts to locate a copy through former employees of Oprah’s production company were fruitless, with none able to recall the episode,” Levine wrote.
Levine got a bit of a break in the form of a letter Fierstein wrote to the Senate downplaying her accusations. In it, she made it clear the episode aired after the public reports of her allegations, which helped Fierstein narrow down her search.
On Monday, Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said she’d seen it after Oprah Winfrey Network had provided it to the Senate on the condition that it not be made public.
Eventually a source happened to mention that the episode in question also featured Charlotte Fedders, whose former husband was forced to resign as the head of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission after the domestic abuse charges became public in the 1980s.
Fedders, whose sister still has a copy of the tape, agreed to provide it to Politico.
“I totally believe that it happened,” Fedders said. “I believe that she [Fierstein] was abused.”
“That just left us looking for a VCR,” Levine wrote.