Sen. Joni Ernst this week disclosed that a man she knew raped her in college, an account she revealed in an interview as details of her divorce became public.
In divorce documents, she accused her ex-husband of having an affair and physically assaulting her during an argument before she was elected to the Senate. On Wednesday, she denied allegations he leveled that she had an affair with a subordinate while she served in the military.
The Iowa Republican answered questions from reporters at a town hall event on the University of Northern Iowa campus in Cedar Falls, the Des Moines Register reported.
Ernst's account of being raped, which she shared with Bloomberg News in an interview published Wednesday, left her weeping on the phone, according to the report.
She said the rape occurred when she was a student at Iowa State University at the home of a "physically and sexually abusive" man she was in a relationship with. She reported the incident on a hotline for the campus sexual assault counseling center, but not to police, and ended the relationship. Bloomberg confirmed with a friend of Ernst's that she told him about the alleged attack at the time.
In the court documents, Ernst's ex-husband, Gail Ernst, accused her of having an affair with one of her soldiers while she was deployed as a company commander. She said Wednesday that she cares "about all of my soldiers" and that the allegation was not true.
Gail Ernst denied in court documents that he had an affair, but the abuse allegations were not addressed. A working phone number for him could not be found, and his attorney on Tuesday declined to comment.
Joni Ernst said Wednesday at the event that she believed the court documents would be sealed from the public and was caught off guard by news reports on the allegations.
In an emotional interview with the Register about her divorce, Ernst said she has always been a strong supporter of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. She said people will now likely view that work as coming from not just a lawmaker but also a survivor of abuse.
"What I want to remind everybody is that I'm still the same person I was a week ago," she said, her voice breaking as she sought to hold back tears. "The only difference is that you know more about me now than you did a week ago."
Ernst, 48, has indicated she'll run for a second six-year Senate term in 2020.
The divorce affidavit also revealed that Ernst said she turned down President Donald Trump after interviewing to be his running mate. She called her withdrawal from consideration a sacrifice for the good of the relationship with her husband, whom she said wasn't supportive of her fast-rising political career.
"I turned Candidate Trump down, knowing it wasn't the right thing for me or my family," she wrote in the filing, which doesn't explicitly say whether Trump asked her to join the ticket.
Trump interviewed Ernst at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, in July 2016 as he was considering potential running mates. Ernst told reporters later that she made clear she was interested in continuing to serve Iowa in the Senate, to which she was elected in 2014 after serving as a state senator and county official. Trump eventually chose Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who is now vice president.
Ernst's office, the White House and the Trump campaign didn't respond to requests for comment Tuesday.