Republican U.S. Senate nominee Jack Ryan’s ex-wife, TV actress Jeri Ryan, accused him of taking her to sex clubs in New York and Paris, where he tried to coerce her into having sex with him in front of strangers, according to records released Monday from the couple’s California divorce file.
Jack Ryan denied the allegations when they were made in 2000, when the couple was engaged in a bitter child custody battle a year after their divorce.
The papers were released by California Judge Robert Schnider following his decision last week to unseal portions of the Ryans’ divorce file.
Attorneys for the Tribune and WLS-Ch. 7 sought release of the records, but the Ryans had fought disclosure because they said it could harm their son. The Ryans decided not to appeal Schnider’s ruling.
The political impact of the revelations on Jack Ryan’s candidacy will play out over the next several days. One prominent Illinois Republican, U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood of Peoria, said he was “shocked” that Ryan would run for public office carrying such baggage and called on him to get out of the race.
Reaction from other Republicans ranged from caution to outright defense of Ryan.
“We’re not looking at trying to replace Jack Ryan. He’s an excellent candidate,” said Dan Allen, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “We feel this race will be decided on the issues.”
Still, other Republicans acknowleged that Ryan’s political future was in doubt. An adviser to President Bush said the revelation made it more likely the Bush-Cheney campaign would steer clear of Illinois.
Ryan is facing Democrat Barack Obama in the November general election to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Illinois). Obama said it would not be “appropriate” for him to comment on the revelations. “Obviously Mr. Ryan and his supporters will be discussing this and I don’t think that’s my role,” Obama said.
Among the hundreds of pages of documents released was a legal filing dated June 9, 2000, in which Jeri Ryan said she knew her marriage was over by the spring of 1998. She went on to contend that her then-husband--whom she repeatedly refers to as “respondent” in the filing--surprised her with trips to the cities but didn’t tell her he planned to bring her to sex clubs while there.
“They were long weekends, supposed `romantic’ getaways,” Jeri Ryan said in the filing. “The clubs in New York and Paris were explicit sex clubs. Respondent had done research. Respondent took me to two clubs in New York during the day. One club I refused to go in. It had mattresses in cubicles. The other club he insisted I go to.”
In releasing the files, Schnider allowed many passages to be blacked out. In the portions that were released, Jeri Ryan gave details of the trips she says she was taken on to clubs in New York and Paris. She also alleged that Jack Ryan took her to a sex club in New Orleans, but no elaboration on that trip was included in the released portion of the file.
In responding to Jeri Ryan’s charges, Jack Ryan six days later described the accusations as “ridiculous” and accused her of trying to “libel” him with what he called “smut.” He implied that his ex-wife had made them to ruin his reputation as he contemplated a political career.
“I was faithful and loyal to my wife throughout our marriage,” Jack Ryan said in the filing. “I did arrange romantic getaways for us but that did not include the type of activities she describes. We did go to one avant-garde nightclub in Paris, which was more than either one of us felt comfortable with. We left and vowed never to return,” Jack Ryan said.
He also accused Jeri Ryan of hiding a love affair from him while they were married.
On Monday, following the release of the documents, Ryan was asked several times by reporters if he stuck by his claim in the divorce file that the charges from his ex-wife were untrue. He declined to answer directly, referring repeatedly to his statement in the divorce file.
Ryan said he fought release of the files not to avoid personal and political embarrassment but to protect his son.
“A lot of people were saying to me the last three months it’s politically damaging to keep these files sealed, just release the files,” Ryan said. “But what dad wouldn’t do the same thing I did? What dad wouldn’t try to keep information about your child, that might be detrimental to the world knowing, private? Even the things moms and dads say to each other, about each other, should be kept away from children.”
Ryan’s campaign on Monday released a statement attributed to Jeri Ryan in which she did not retract the allegations about the sex clubs but also went on to declare that her ex-husband had never been abusive or unfaithful during their marriage.
“Jack is a good man, a loving father and he shares a strong bond with our son,” the statement read.
In her 2000 filing, Jeri Ryan alleged that after she and Jack Ryan left the first sex club they entered in New York, he asked her to go to another. She said he told her that he had gone out to dinner with her that night even though he didn’t want to and “the least I could do in return was go to the club he wanted me to go.”
She described the second place as “a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling.”
“Respondent wanted me to have sex with him there with another couple watching. I refused,” Jeri Ryan continued. “Respondent asked me to perform a sexual activity upon him and he specifically asked other people to watch. I was very upset.
“We left the club and respondent apologized, said that I was right and he would never insist that I go to a club again. He promised it was out of his system.”
But later, Jeri Ryan said, Jack Ryan took her to Paris where he again took her to a sex club without first telling her where they were going.
“I told him I thought it was out of his system. I told him he had promised me we would never go. People were having sex everywhere. I cried. I was physically ill. Respondent became very upset with me and said it was not a `turn-on’ for me to cry. I could not get over the incident and my loss of any attraction to him as a result. Respondent knew this was a serious problem. I told him I did not know if we could work it out.”
In the filing, Jeri Ryan said that by December 1998 the couple had tried counseling and reconciliation but that she thought too much damage had been done and she admitted that she had fallen in love with another man.
In another set of court documents released by Schnider, Jeri Ryan’s mother Sharon Zimmermann, said her daughter complained to her in November 1998 that Jack Ryan was too controlling.
“Jeri Lynn told me that she was tired of being told what to eat, how to sit, what to wear, tired of being criticized about her physical appearance and told to exercise,” Zimmermann said.
In his Monday press conference, Jack Ryan acknowledged that he had been too controlling and expressed regret. “There are a number of things I could do better,” he said.
Controversy over the sealed divorce file first erupted during Ryan’s Republican primary campaign following revelations that a divorce file sealed by one of the Democratic contenders for the Senate, Blair Hull, contained allegations of spousal abuse.
Ryan refused requests from his opponents to release the file, saying it could harm his son and only dealt with custody matters. At one point, State Republican Party Chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka said she asked him flatly whether there was anything embarrassing in the file. Topinka said Ryan assured her there was not.
“I consider him an honest man and I take him at his word,” she said shortly before the primary, which Ryan won over seven opponents.
On Monday, a source close to Topinka, who is also the state treasurer, said she felt Ryan had misled her. “She stuck her neck out for him and he assured her nothing in those files was embarrassing to him or to the Republican Party,” the source said. “There’s a general feeling by a lot of people that they’ve been lied to.”
LaHood was even more direct. “In the interest of saving further embarassment for him and his family, he needs to immediately withdraw from the race,” he said. “There is no way Republicans in Illinois will vote for somebody with this kind of activity in their background.”
That sentiment, however, was not universal. State Rep. Paul Froehlich (R-Schaumburg), who was an early supporter of Ryan, said he felt the revelations would not hurt.
“After personally reviewing the documents released, the flap over Jack Ryan’s divorce file is much ado about almost nothing,” he said.
State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin), one of the candidates who lost to Ryan in the primary, said Ryan might have handled it better but didn’t think the revelations were too serious. “Racy bars in three different cities, that’s it?” asked Rauschenberger. “I just think he would have been better off coming out with this information earlier. But I don’t think it’s a big deal.”
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Statement of Jeri Ryan
“Jack and I were married for almost eight years. We both tried very hard to make our marriage work, unfortunately our lives moved in different directions, and we were ultimately unable to save the marriage. But we were both blessed with the love of our lives, our son.
“We maintain a good relationship and I consider Jack a friend. In response to the rumors that have been circulating, there was never any physical abuse in our marriage--either to myself or to our son--nor, to my knowledge, was he ever unfaithful to me. Jack is a good man, a loving father, and he shares a strong bond with our son. I wish him all the best, both in his life and career. I have no doubt that he will make an excellent senator.”
Tribune staff reporters Michael Martinez, Jon Yates, Rick Pearson, Rudy Bush, Jeff Zeleny and Michael Tackett contributed to this report.