Trump-Endorsed Senate Candidate Suspends Campaign After Losing Custody Battle

MOON TOWNSHIP, PA - SEPTEMBER 22: Congressional candidate Sean Parnell greets attendees before President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Atlantic Aviation on September 22, 2020 in Moon Township, Pennsylvan... MOON TOWNSHIP, PA - SEPTEMBER 22: Congressional candidate Sean Parnell greets attendees before President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Atlantic Aviation on September 22, 2020 in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images) MORE LESS

Updated at 3:36 p.m.

Sean Parnell, the Trump-endorsed Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, suspended his campaign Monday after losing a bitter custody battle with his estranged wife Laurie Snell.

“There is nothing more important to me than my children, and while I plan to ask the court to reconsider, I can’t continue with a Senate campaign,” he said in a statement.

A judge granted sole legal custody to Snell after hearings in which she accused Parnell of assaulting both her and their children.

“Ms. Snell is grateful that justice prevailed,” Jill Sinatra, Snell’s lawyer, told TPM. “She has been awarded sole legal and primary physical custody of their children. She will continue, as always, to focus on their best interests.”

Parnell’s lawyers did not respond to TPM’s questions.

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“Laurie Snell was the more credible witness and she can truthfully give regular status reports to Sean Parnell and, as may be needed, to the court,” Butler County Senior Common Pleas Judge James Arner wrote. He awarded sole legal custody and primary physical custody to Snell, with partial physical custody to Parnell on some weekends each month.

Parnell, who has already been endorsed by President Donald Trump, was considered the leading contender for the Republican nomination in the race to fill the Senate seat soon to be vacated by the retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA).

In the order, Arner recounted the abuse Snell had alleged: Parnell throwing chairs at her, dropping her off at the side of a highway when she was six months pregnant and telling her to get an abortion, trying to strangle her and hitting the children. Snell had also testified that Parnell had struck one of his children so hard that it left a handprint, and had punched a door which swung forward to hit one of the children in the face. Parnell, the judge noted, denied the accusations.

The couple separated in 2018, Arner said, and Snell had made no allegations of abuse since then. 

Arner said he found Snell’s account of the incidents more convincing. 

“She could remember and describe the specific incidents about which she testified,” he wrote. 

“In evaluating Sean Parnell’s testimony, I find it less credible,” he added. “When weighing his position against Laurie Snell’s statements of detailed facts about many incidents, Sean Parnell’s position is less believable.” 

The judge also took issue with Parnell’s presentation. 

“He dressed very casually for his appearances in court, in blue jeans and untucked plaid shirts, which did not show respect for the seriousness of the occasion,” Arner wrote. “When testifying he looked mainly in the direction of his attorneys and towards members of the news media in the back of the courtroom, rather than at me.” 

The judge concluded that while he believed Snell’s accounts of past abuse, the years elapsed without further incident and Snell’s willingness to give Parnell periods of unsupervised custody led him to believe that Parnell would not be a physical threat to the kids.

The judge also tallied Parnell’s potential future as a U.S. senator — “he expects to win the election,” he noted — and the intensive travel the job entails as a point in Snell’s favor.

In the statement suspending his campaign, Parnell wrote that the judge’s comments about his Senate candidacy helped compel him to end his campaign and ask the judge to reconsider.

“In the order, two of the leading factors that weighed heavily in the judge’s opinion revolved around me being a leading U.S. Senate candidate,” he wrote.

Parnell is one of multiple Republican Senate candidates accused of violence or making threats this cycle, a list that also includes Herschel Walker in Georgia and Former Gov. Eric Greitens in Missouri. TPM asked Ronna Romney McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, whether the crop of accused candidates hurts the party’s standing late last week.

“We take domestic violence very seriously,” she said. “If there were criminal charges or if that got pursued, we would look at that very seriously, but it’s gonna be up to the voters to decide. They have to make their case and tell their story.”

Read the judge’s order here:

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