Watch CBS News

Trump-endorsed GOP Senate candidate suspends campaign after losing custody battle and abuse allegations

Sean Parnell allegations could sink Senate bid
Abuse allegations against Sean Parnell could sink Senate campaign 07:04

Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sean Parnell suspended his campaign Monday after losing a battle for custody of his three children and his estranged wife accused him of abuse.

In the order, the judge partially cited Parnell's Senate campaign as a factor weighing against Parnell in the legal fight. Parnell said he strongly disagrees with the ruling and is "devastated by the decision."

"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," Parnell said in a statement. "My focus right now is 100% on my children, and I want them to know that I do not have any other priorities and will never stop fighting for them."

Taylor Budowich, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, tweeted that Parnell called the former president to inform him of his decision. 

Budowich said that the Pennsylvania Senate race "remains a top priority for Pres. Trump and the '22 MAGA Map - rallying our movement behind the best America 1st candidate remains critical."

Election 2022-Senate-Pennsylvania
FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2020 file photo, Sean Parnell walks through people gathered at a campaign rally for President Donald Trump at the Pittsburgh International Airport in Moon Township, Pa.  Keith Srakocic / AP

Earlier Monday, Judge James Arner ruled that Laurie Snell, Parnell's estranged wife, will get primary legal custody of the couple's children. Snell testified during the trial that Parnell had physically and verbally abused her. Parnell denied those claims under oath, but Arner said he found Snell to be more credible.  

"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," Arner wrote in his order. 

The case has put Parnell's campaign in the national spotlight, and the judge's decision could be a major blow for his chances of winning the GOP nomination. Parnell's campaign has not yet responded to a request for comment. 

Parnell was endorsed by former President Trump in September. A spokesperson for Mr. Trump has not responded to a request for comment. 

Parnell was asking for primary physical custody and shared legal custody of the children, but instead will have partial physical custody for three weekends each month. Until now, the couple shared physical and legal custody of the children. 

In her testimony, Snell said Parnell threw chairs toward her in 2008, pinned her down in 2009 and screamed at her, tried to choke her in 2015 and hit their children in 2018. Snell said she told Parnell to leave in 2018 after Parnell punched a closet door and hit one of their children in the face. 

Parnell fiercely denied Snell's claims and said the 2018 incident with the closet was an accident that happened while he was getting ready to go to the gym. 

Arner said he concluded Snell's accusations of abuse were credible because of the details she was able to provide. He said Parnell's account was less credible because "he simply denied that all of (the) incidents ever happened."

The judge said he believed the incidents involving the children happened as Snell described them, but added, "I am not placing weight on that evidence because a period of three and one half years has gone by without further incident." 

"The fact that Laurie Snell has agreed that Sean Parnell can have substantial periods of unsupervised custody indicates she does not view him as a threat of harm to the children," Arner wrote. 

The judge also said Snell's availability to care for the children, make arrangements for them and her involvement in decisions about their education were among the factors weighing in her favor. 

Businessman Jeff Bartos, former U.S. ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands and conservative commentator Kathy Barnette are among those who are also seeking the GOP nomination. 

Politico reported recently that some Pennsylvania Republicans are trying to persuade Bridgewater Associates CEO David McCormick to enter the race. McCormick, who worked in the Treasury Department during the George W. Bush administration, is married to Dina Powell, who was a deputy national security adviser to Mr. Trump. The Washington Free Beacon reported that Dr. Mehmet Oz was preparing to enter the Senate race. 

"Pennsylvania's Republican Senate primary is in chaos. This development highlights the weakness of leading GOP Senate candidates in key battlegrounds," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson David Bergstein said in a statement. "And the vicious infighting amongst Republicans in Pennsylvania is sure to intensify, just like it has in Senate races across the country."  

On the Democratic side, U.S. Representative Connor Lamb, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, state Senator Malcolm Kenyatta and Montgomery County Supervisor Val Arkoosh are all vying for the nomination. The Pennsylvania race is expected to be one of the most expensive Senate campaigns in the country.  

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.