Video: Ryan on sex scandal

updated 7/7/2004 12:21:20 PM ET 2004-07-07T16:21:20

Just two weeks ago, Jack Ryan, the Republican candidate for the United States Senate in Illinois, was a serious challenger to his Democratic challenger who was a media favorite.

Ryan‘s former wife, actress Jeri Ryan of “Star Trek Voyager” and “Boston Public” fame, supported Ryan‘s bid for the Senate even though the two were divorced in 1999.

But the election changed when a local media lawyer convinced a California judge to open up the couple‘s sealed divorce documents which revealed alleged trips to sex clubs in New Orleans, New York and Paris.  These revelations caused a media feeding frenzy that ended Jack Ryan‘s Senate bid.

Former Republican Senate candidate Jack Ryan joined MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough on Tuesday’s “Scarborough Country” to answer questions about the sex scandal allegations, and to explain why he dropped out over them.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  As my audience doesn‘t know but we know, I know people that worked on your campaign. I know people that know you and what they told me is “he didn‘t do it.” This isn‘t Jack Ryan.  This is all a bunch of garbage.  Two people fought in a divorce but it‘s not true.  If that‘s the case, then why didn‘t you come out when you were getting hammered and say my ex-wife‘s lying?

JACK RYAN:  You know the media has been trying to get me to pick a fight with Jeri Lynn since this came out but there are some things that are more important to me than the U.S. Senate race and one is that we be great parents for our son, which means we get along well.  We talk all the time.  We make sure that we are raising our son as co-parents.

And so, it‘s just not worth it for any of us to start getting into a public debate about what happened three or four years ago or what was said three or four years ago in divorce documents.

So, we just refused to go there.  Furthermore, she‘s a good woman and I‘m not going to say anything negative about her publicly or privately.  She‘s a good woman and a good mom.

SCARBOROUGH:  So, you‘re not going to say tonight that what she said was a lie?

RYAN:  No.  And by the way what she said, just to clarify it for your viewers, is the first sexless sex scandal because there was no sex and the person involved was my wife so I don‘t think it‘s really a matter of relevance for the political campaign and said that since the documents were released by the judge in California.

SCARBOROUGH:  Have you talked to your ex-wife since this came up?

RYAN:  We talk all the time.

SCARBOROUGH:  Do you really?

RYAN:  Yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, when this news first broke were you mad at her?  Did you pick up the phone and say, “see what this has led to?”  What did you all say on the phone to each other?

RYAN: We talked a lot throughout the entire—well since the campaign began because we knew we were taking a risk obviously, although never in the history of the United States has someone broken into sealed custody documents.

When you run for public office you know that everything you do comes under a microscope, so before we launched this venture, this idea, we spoke about what are the risks to our son?  What‘s the upside?

You may know how to run this campaign but how to help the poorest of the poor and the least fortunate because I was teaching high school in the south side of Chicago the last three years, so we thought this...

SCARBOROUGH:  Tell that real quickly.  I mean you were an extraordinarily successful businessman.  You made millions of dollars and you gave it all up and you went to teach school in the south side of Chicago, obviously one of the toughest parts, not only of Illinois but of the country, right?

RYAN:  Yes, I was a partner at Goldman Sachs and I left about four years ago and started teaching high school at a school called Hales Franciscan High School, an all African-American high school, where most of our men are on federal assistance and yet each year for the last six years all of our men have gone to college.  It‘s probably one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago.

SCARBOROUGH:  In your school?

RYAN:  In our school, yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  All of them have gone?

RYAN:  Yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s amazing.

So, you decide you‘re going to run for the United States Senate.  You talk to your ex-wife about it.  Did you all talk about these allegations that she made about you and say, “Gee, do you think they‘re going to come out?”

RYAN:  Well, a couple of things we did.  First is check with the lawyers in California, say if mom and dad link arms and say these documents should stay sealed would a judge reach around us or some media organization reach around us and basically take those documents out of our hands and put them in the front page of the paper?

And so, the lawyers had said little chance of that happening and then we had to also think that some media organization would want to do that, which is the first time in the history of our country that someone said over the hopes and wishes of the mom and dad, release these documents to the world for everyone to see.

SCARBOROUGH:  And you got a 10-year-old son. nine-year-old Alex.  What did your ex-wife say when this first broke?  Was she angry?  Was she still supportive of you?

RYAN:  When the documents got released?

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, when this whole scandal broke and the documents were released, yes.

RYAN:  Yes.  No, she was really good about it because we knew, first of all it didn‘t happen suddenly.  They had been fighting over these documents now for three or four months.  That is the media.  So, we were kind of leading up to this point.

We always thought we were going to win at the end and the judge suddenly flipped at the last minute and said the public right to know exceeds the health of the child and the judge found that the child would be harmed by the release of these documents.  As any parent would know, you don‘t want disagreements between mom and dad put in front of the children.  That‘s kind of parenting 101, I think.

And so the judge had said this will harm the child but the public right to know exceeds the harm to the child and released the documents.  But, no, so it was worth taking a risk.  It was worth fighting for the ideas that this campaign was about and so she was never upset with me or unhappy with me.

SCARBOROUGH:  Do you regret at this point making any personal choices that led to all of this?  Does she regret that she put that information in the documents?  Any regrets from either one of you?

RYAN:  Well, I haven‘t asked her about the documents themselves in particular.  I guess I regret the fact that I tried so hard to protect my son.  In the end, I was unsuccessful and so I tried really hard but in the end I failed and I wish I could have done better but that‘s my biggest regret.

But I think it was worth the risk because we were in this very unique Republican primary campaign.  As a former Republican Congressman you know this.  We ran a campaign talking about how to help the poorest of the poor and the least fortunate by flipping the great society on its head and saying “Let‘s empower individuals not government institutions.”

We know that it works at Hales Franciscan but all the consultants in Washington, D.C. said we don‘t want a campaign or a primary talking about the poorest of the poor and civil rights and social justice.

And I know Republicans care a lot about those ideas and we proved it through this campaign.  We won the primary by a big margin.  And so the biggest casualty in all this, after my son, was the fact that we had this great campaign with these great ideas and don‘t have a chance to talk about those now.

SCARBOROUGH:  There’s the difficulty of having young kids and having the media spotlight on you but how do you explain something like this to a 9-year-old son?

RYAN:  Well, it‘s really hard to.  What we‘ve explained so far basically is I‘m not running for the U.S. Senate anymore.  And when he came back from his trip on the Disney cruise, I told him this news.

SCARBOROUGH: What did you do once all this broke?

RYAN:  Well, as you might guess, the idea was get him away from the press as fast as we could, so we did that and when he got back I told him I was not running for the U.S. Senate anymore.  He said, “Oh no.”  I said, “No, it‘s true, Alex.”  He said, “Well, that‘s impossible.”  I said, “No, it‘s true.” 

And he paused for a while and said, “Don‘t worry, dad, you did your best.”  And I thought that was really sweet and he must have gotten it from me or Jeri Lynn but that was awfully sweet.

In terms of the other details, we haven‘t gone into a lot of the details yet but the hardest part is at some point in his future he‘ll go onto the Internet to do a report on his mom or his dad and see all this and this was the very reason we fought so hard to keep these documents sealed.

And now what I think about, and I think your viewers should as well, is what is the standard for running for public office nowadays?  Does everybody who is divorced have to hand in their divorce documents, their custody documents to the papers?

I mean I think we have a hard enough time now getting our best and brightest to run for office and, if we keep raising the bar, this is the newest bar that we‘re just setting, we‘ll have no one willing to take on the risk of running for office.

SCARBOROUGH:  Obviously, another guy from Illinois, Ronald Reagan, got divorced earlier in life before he met Nancy and I mean the public scrutiny I think would run people off even like Ronald Reagan from office.

Did you and your wife work together with the same lawyer to sue to keep them sealed?

RYAN:  Yes.  We joined arms, her lawyer and our lawyer joined forces and said “Let‘s keep these documents sealed.  There‘s nothing in here the public needs to know for someone running for office.” Remember there‘s no allegation of breaking any laws or any infidelity or breaking the marriage vows.

I can see if someone has broken a serious promise maybe the voters ought to know about that but there‘s no allegation of that and so basically the idea was this will harm our son to have these disagreements made public.

SCARBOROUGH: I know how tough it is, I mean as far as when you‘re divorced and you‘re walking through a minefield again for the kids.  It would be a lot easier if there weren‘t kids there.  You could deal with these things and come out swinging and everything.

But this is what I don‘t understand.  Well, I do understand it but a lot of people out there may not understand, OK.  No allegations of infidelity.  No allegations of you breaking any laws.  Your people are telling me it‘s just not true and yet you give up a shot, a great shot of being a United States Senator from Illinois.

RYAN:  Yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  Again, I‘ll ask the question that I know a lot of people are saying out there because people are so cynical, if he didn‘t do it then why did he give up a Senate seat?

RYAN:  Because there are some things more important than a U.S. Senate seat and one of them is making sure that we‘re great parents for our son, which means we have a great relationship.  We work well together from now going forward.

And so to reopen issues that we ourselves put to bed a long time ago is not helpful to my first priority, which is being a good dad and making sure we‘re great parents for our son.

SCARBOROUGH:  So, I‘m going to ask you again are you tonight denying the allegations?

RYAN:  And I keep telling the media the same thing over and over again, so I‘m sorry to frustrate you.

SCARBOROUGH:  No, no you‘re not frustrating me.

RYAN:  We‘re just not going to go back into that because we settled this debate between ourselves a long time ago.  We‘re not going to reopen it for the public.

SCARBOROUGH:  So, I want you to explain this though because this is incredibly important.

People want to know everything that you‘ve ever done.   They want to know everything your wife‘s ever done, not because it has anything to do with helping kids in the south side of Chicago but because it makes more people watch TV shows.  It makes more people buy the “Chicago Tribune.” 

What would happen if you came on my show tonight or if you told John Stossel on Friday night, “My wife‘s not telling the truth? “ I‘m not saying that you‘re saying that but what would happen if you got in a fight with your wife right now on TV and said, “You know what, I‘m going to protect myself instead of my 9-year-old son”?  “I‘m not going to be slandered by the “Chicago Tribune” anymore.  I‘m going to let it all out on the table.”  What would happen?

RYAN:  Well, one, I‘m denigrating the mother of my son, which is not helpful.

SCARBOROUGH:  Calling her a liar in front of the country.

RYAN:  And she‘s a good woman.

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.

RYAN:  She‘s a very good woman, so I‘m not going to do that ever, not going to happen.  The second thing is think about the relationship we have now going forward as parents trying to raise our son. 

Imagine the telephone conversations that have been so good for so long between me and Jeri Lynn about what‘s best for our son today?  What school should he go to?  Do you think he should go here for camp or is he better to be with your folks this weekend or my folks? 

Think of how those conversations go and that‘s got to be the first priority of anybody is—any parent is their child first.  And so the very situation you‘re describing is the very situation that we are not going to get into.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  So, you‘ve said that you did inappropriate things but if you came out and denied these charges right now it would cause a major rift between you and your ex-wife and that would hurt your son?

RYAN:  Well, remember, the documents themselves four years ago, you can look at her comments and my response.  That‘s all there.  But it‘s not worth it for us to reopen those wounds that we healed a long time ago. 

It took a lot of work, of course, for both of us to make sure we could work through whatever difficulties we had four or five years ago.  We‘ve done that, so we‘re not going to reopen those especially in public.

SCARBOROUGH:  You obviously have had a lot of people talking to you about Bill Clinton and other politicians that have had worst charges against them.  Again, I‘m not re-dredging this up for any other reason than you‘re here.

But Bill Clinton had Juanita Broderick accuse him of rape.  Of course, Kathleen Willey accused him of doing inappropriate things.  He settled a lawsuit, a sexual harassment lawsuit with a government employee, Jennifer Flowers, the list goes on and on and on.  This guy remains president of the United States and is defended, you‘re out. 

RYAN:  Well, please don‘t compare me to Bill Clinton, please.

SCARBOROUGH: Don‘t you feel like there‘s a great hypocrisy here?

RYAN:  Well, I think it‘s worthwhile looking into someone if they‘ve broken a serious promise to their spouse or to someone they owe a duty to.  That I think is a character issue for running for the U.S. Senate or for the presidency but the things that they‘re alleging about me don‘t rise to that level.  So, I think it‘s fair to go to those issues if they are a serious break of a promise but otherwise no.

SCARBOROUGH:  One quick question, are you open to a possible run in the future?

RYAN:  I‘d be open to it, yes I would.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Jack, thanks so much. I appreciate you being here.

RYAN:  Thanks a lot for having me.

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