Trump-backed Parnell loses custody battle, suspends campaign

Trump-backed Parnell loses custody battle, suspends campaign

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Sean Parnell, the candidate backed by former President Donald Trump for the US Senate in Pennsylvania, suspended his campaign Monday after losing a court battle over custody of his three children in which a judge said he believed in allegations of abuse by Parnell’s estranged wife.

In a statement, Parnell said he was shocked by the judge’s decision, and plans to ask the judge to reconsider, but he cannot continue his campaign.

A high-stakes campaign in the battleground state could help determine control of the US Senate in next year’s election.

The Butler County judge’s decision came two weeks after Parnell took a stand to deny his estranged wife’s allegations that he harmed her and her children.

Judge James Arner wrote in an order Monday that Parnell’s estranged wife, Laurie Snell, will have sole legal custody of school-age children, in addition to primary physical custody. Arner wrote that Parnell would actually be confined to three weekends per month.


Snell was “the most credible witness,” as Arner summed up in his 16-page opinion, saying she could remember the details and describe them convincingly.

The Pennsylvania Senate seat opens up as Republican Senator Pat Toomey retires for two terms, and Republicans and Democrats have a large field of candidates in the politically divided state.

Parnell’s withdrawal comes as many in the state’s Republican Party are undecided about their field, which includes conservative commentator Cathy Barnett, real estate investor Jeff Bartos and Carla Sands, Trump’s ambassador to Denmark.

There is also a suggestion from Mehmet Oz — a heart surgeon and longtime host of the “Dr. Oz Show” who has gained fame as an Oprah Winfrey patron — that he be encouraged to enter the Republican primary.

Parnell’s withdrawal is a major blow to Trump, who enthusiastically endorsed Parnell in September with the encouragement of his eldest son.


Trump’s spokesman, Taylor Bowdwich, said Trump and Parnell spoke prior to Parnell’s announcement and that Parnell informed Trump of his intent to suspend his campaign, given the decision.

He said on Twitter that the race in the Pennsylvania Senate “remains a top priority” for the former president, and that “mobilizing our movement behind America’s first best candidate remains critical.”

Parnell’s nomination has been an ongoing presence in the custody case, with the judge in his opinion stating that Parnell argued that Snell “had a motive to publicly embarrass him and harm his political career”, while Snell argued that Parnell “has a motive to preserve his public image and political career”.

Snell testified about enduring years of anger and abuse from Parnell, including once when he choked her so hard she had to bite him to set him free and again when he slapped one of their children hard enough to leave bruises on the back of the child’s shirt.


Instead, he found Parnell’s testimony “less credible,” saying Parnell was “rather evasive” and simply denied Snell’s allegations.

“When looking at the credible evidence, I find that Sean Parnell has indeed committed some acts of abuse in the past” against Snell, Arner wrote. Arner wrote that he also believed Parnell slapped the child, Snell testified.

But he wrote, after Snell previously agreed that Parnell could have extended periods of unsupervised custody indicating she did not view it as harming children, Arner wrote.

Snell’s attorney, Jane Gilliland Vansdale, said Snell was “grateful that justice has prevailed.”

In his sworn testimony on November 8, Parnell denied Snell’s allegations, saying that he never strangled or hung her, and never hit one of her children in a fit of rage.


Snell and Parnell have been living separately for at least three years, but have equally divided custody of their children.

Parnell’s date with his wife became a topic in the Republican primary campaign, days after endorsing Trump.

Parnell, a decorated former Army Ranger who commanded a platoon in Afghanistan, penned memoirs about his service, which became a New York Times bestseller. He has also written four action novels, and appeared as a regular guest on Fox News programs before running for Congress last year and getting a coveted place to speak at the Republican National Convention.

Trump’s endorsement came in early September, as Parnell was a wanted guest on conservative cable television and podcasts to discuss the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan before the withdrawal of US forces.


Even amid the headlines about the custody issue, Trump bolstered his support for Parnell by setting a fundraiser date with Donald Trump Jr. on January 25 at the Trump Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.

Trump’s allies privately warned that his haphazard endorsement process — often driven more by a thirst for revenge or flattery than by strategic considerations about who is best to win the general election — could create headaches for him in the future.

Trump takes pride in his endorsement record, seeing him as a proxy for his political power, and some aides have advised him to be wiser in his choices.

In addition to Parnell, Trump has endorsed several other candidates who have faced allegations of assaulting women, including former White House staffer Max Miller. Miller has denied the charges.


Author Jill Colvin at The Associated Press in New York contributed to this report. Follow Mark Levy on Twitter at

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