Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Jeff Bartos launched a charged personal attack against a leading GOP opponent Tuesday, arguing that Sean Parnell is “unelectable” because of protective orders Parnell’s wife sought against him as their marriage splintered.
Bartos’ criticism centers on two temporary protection-from-abuse orders issued against Parnell in 2017 and 2018. Neither was extended after a full hearing involving both parties, and both were later expunged. It remains unclear what Parnell’s wife accused him of doing when the temporary orders were issued. Parnell and his wife are in an ongoing divorce and custody battle.
Word of the protective orders has been quietly simmering in political and media circles for months, but Bartos made them public for the first time in an interview Tuesday. He planned to release a memo Wednesday on the matter and why it should steer Republicans away from Parnell.
“Sean’s actions and attitude toward women are disturbing, well-documented, and disqualifying,” Bartos, a Main Line real estate developer, said in a phone interview. “The citizens of Pennsylvania deserve to know this information.”
Parnell accused Bartos of spreading lies, said the political attack hurt his three children, and that Bartos should drop out of the race.
“Jeff Bartos is a desperate liar, plain and simple,” Parnell, whose campaign declined to make him available for an interview, said in a statement. “Bartos’ allegations are horrific lies and all the evidence proves it. Not only does he know full well that these allegations are provably false, but his willingness to spread these lies without any consideration for the damage he’s doing to my three young kids is utterly disgusting. It takes a truly dishonorable ‘man’ to stoop this low just to score a few cheap political points.”.
Temporary protective orders are issued after brief hearings before a judge involving only the accuser, not the accused. They can become permanent after a hearing involving both parties, but neither of the orders against Parnell went that far. None of the documents describe the alleged actions that led to those initial orders.
The new, highly personal line of attack comes days after Parnell, a former Army ranger, secured a coveted endorsement from former President Donald Trump in the Republican primary — a potential turning point in the race. Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate contest is one of the most competitive in the country and will help determine control of the chamber after next year’s midterm elections.
Parnell said Bartos’ approach was “the last gasp of a campaign on life support.”
Bartos said Republican voters should know all the information before choosing their nominee. His campaign argued that if Parnell becomes the GOP candidate, the revelations would devastate Republican prospects in the general election.
Parnell and Bartos are the two most prominent Republican candidates in the race, though other GOP contenders such as Kathy Barnette and Carla Sands are also looming. Incumbent GOP Sen. Pat Toomey is not seeking reelection.
Butler County officials served temporary protection-from-abuse orders against Sean Parnell on July 5, 2017, and June 8, 2018, according to call records from the Butler County Sheriff’s Office. In both instances, Parnell was ordered to give up his guns, and he was ordered to leave his home in the 2017 incident.
The first order was withdrawn under an agreement between Parnell and his wife 13 days after the initial order. A judge denied a full protection order after a hearing in the 2018 case, according to court records provided by the Parnell campaign.
Parnell’s campaign pointed to the eventual dismissals as evidence that the accusations were never substantiated in a hearing involving both parties.
Experts in domestic violence said there are many reasons temporary orders don’t become permanent.
The victim may feel the temporary protection was sufficient. They may feel more at risk after an order has heightened the conflict. They may have financial concerns. Or a judge may have looked at the evidence and decided it wasn’t merited.
“Just because it was withdrawn or even dismissed after a trial doesn’t mean nothing happened,” said Sarah Katz, a Temple University law professor who specializes in family law and who spoke about Pennsylvania law generally, not the specifics of Parnell’s case. “So much of what happens in an abusive relationship just doesn’t count within the statute.”
With the records expunged, there’s little information available about what Parnell’s wife actually accused him of doing.
A message for Laurie Parnell was returned by an attorney, who said in an email that her “main focus has always been the best interests of her three children,” and that child custody proceedings are scheduled to begin Nov. 1.
Sean Parnell also sought a protection order against his wife in 2018, on the same day a PFA was issued against him. He accused her of physical and mental abuse but was denied a protection order, Butler County court records show.
The sheriff’s documents revealing the temporary orders, obtained by The Inquirer prior to their release by Bartos, depict some of the rocky personal life of a Senate candidate largely known for a military career that saw him awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star in Afghanistan.
But now Bartos is making Parnell’s actions in his marriage part of the Senate campaign.
Bartos said the orders against Parnell — along with disparaging comments he made about women on a Fox Nation show — reveal a “vile and disqualifying” attitude toward women.
On the Fox show in 2019, Parnell responded to a study about low marriage rates by saying, “The idea that a woman can live a happy and fulfilling life without a man, I think it’s all nonsense.”
When those comments surfaced in a Pittsburgh City Paper story last year, Parnell, who was then campaigning for a Western Pennsylvania congressional seat, tweeted that it was all a joke on a show where the point was to take controversial positions for comedic effect. He added that he is “the proud father of an amazing little girl.”
In the interview Tuesday, Bartos said that, “as a father and a husband and in particular as the father of two young women, what Sean said ... shows that he harbors contempt for women and it’s disqualifying.”
Sean Parnell, in his own 2018 filing, accused Laurie Parnell of making false allegations when “I’m the one that needs protected [sic] from her.” He accused her of physical and mental abuse, including punching him, trying to hit him with her car, and trying to persuade him to kill himself.
A judge denied his request.