In what must be the most ironic turn in this era of sexual harassment, New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, an ambitious Democrat, who praised women for speaking up against abuses, now faces charges himself. Hours after the story broke that four women had accused him of nonconsensual sexual physical violence, Schneiderman, 63, resigned from his post.
“While these allegations are unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of the office,” Schneiderman said in a statement, “they will effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time. I therefore resign my office, effective at the close of business May 8, 2018.”
According to the story by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, the women had been reluctant to speak up fearing reprisal, but two of them, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, could no longer be silent, hoping their disclosures will protect other women. Schneiderman’s abuses, the women stated, were beatings they received after drinking and frequently in bed.
Both women are in their 40s with progressive credentials and had relationships with Schneiderman over the past several years.
Three of the women have been identified. They sought medical attention after the assaults, but none reported the incidents to the police. One stated that Schneiderman had threatened to kill her, an allegation that has been denied by a representative for the former attorney general.
“In the privacy of intimate relationships,” Schneiderman said, “I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity. I have not assaulted anyone. I have never engaged in nonconsensual sex, which is a line I would not cross.”
According to his accusers, he crossed this line on numerous occasions, leaving bruises and choke marks and making threats of further violence if the acts were divulged.
“I think the article was graphic and definitive in the reporting of the statements, actions, behavior and corroboration,” New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo said of The New Yorker story. “I thought it was a very powerful and damning statement of facts.”
As expected, Schneiderman is receiving a barrage of criticisms from Trump surrogates and others accusing him of being a hypocrite. Schneiderman’s legal actions against Trump as well as numerous lawsuits against his enterprises are widely known. And Trump has spared no counterattacks against Schneiderman.
These revelations come in the wake of an attorney general who had secured an enviable record with proponents of the #MeToo movement and feminists, including those he had allegedly had affairs with, and had launched investigations against Harvey Weinstein, who he denounced.
“We have never seen anything as despicable as what we’ve seen right here,” he said of Weinstein. It’s to be seen how the ongoing investigation of Weinstein and other cases will proceed with Schneiderman no longer in a prosecutorial role.
“I wish my name did not have to be in it,” Selvaratnam told Mayer of the article. “I know it’s going to be my word against his, because I don’t have photos of bruises, and I don’t have a police report. …What do you do if your abuser is the top law-enforcement official in the state?”
The NYPD’s Sgt. Brendan Ryan told the Amsterdam News, “The NYPD has no complaints on file. If the NYPD receives complaints of a crime, it will investigate them thoroughly.”
Elected officials, aspiring and otherwise, were quick to weigh in on the allegations against Schneiderman and said that it was time for him to go. In a statement, New York Senate Democratic Leader Andrew Stewart-Cousins said, “The allegations made against Eric Schneiderman are credible and abhorrent. He has made the only decision that is possible. These four women who have come forward are heroes that have stopped further abuse.”
“The descriptions by these brave women of the physical and sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are sickening,” stated New York gubernatorial Candidate Cynthia Nixon. “It is the right decision for him to resign immediately. The women who came forward so courageously to tell their stories and spared others from suffering are heroines.”
Attorney Brian Figeroux, who represented Abner Louima for a time, told the Amsterdam News, “Because of Schneiderman’s position—then as the attorney general—he must be held to a higher standard. Because of his advocacy and the role he took, he put himself on a certain higher moral ground, then you then must be judged by that standard that you set yourself. It was to be expected that he resigned.”
Cuomo, at a naming ceremony for the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (formerly known Tappan Zee Bridge), told a group of reporters that the New Yorker story was a “very powerful and damning statement of facts.” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that Schneiderman should face charges and if there are other women who have been hurt by the former AG to come forward.
Lawmakers met for two hours the morning after Schneiderman’s resignation amid speculation of who would succeed Schneiderman. Names that have already made their way through the rumor mill include former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris, New York City Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, U.S. Representative Kathleen Rice and former New York State gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout.
“Two days after allegations against the former attorney general surfaced, we are all still coming to terms with his alleged shocking and grotesque behavior,” James told the Amsterdam News a day after the shock waves hit the city. “In line with its constitutional duties, the State Legislature is carrying on a process to select a temporary replacement. I am honored by the encouragement and support I have received and am considering the best ways to continue serving New York. I remain moved by the tremendous courage and bravery that the survivors who came forward demonstrated, and am reminded that women’s voices are needed more than ever at the highest levels of government and in every corner of our society.” To run for New York State attorney general, a candidate must be a lawyer and have five years of New York residency.
“I am seriously considering running for attorney general,” said Teachout on Twitter. “It is a major decision & will take real thought. For today, I’m grateful for the women who dared speak up against one of the most powerful men in the U.S. & for Barbara Underwood, the brilliant woman who will be acting NY AG.”
Taking Schneiderman’s place in the interim is New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood.
“I am honored to serve the people of New York as acting attorney general,” said Underwood in a statement. “The work of this office is critically important. Our office has never been stronger, and this extraordinarily talented, dedicated and tireless team of public servants will ensure that our work continues without interruption.”
Before her appointment to the solicitor general position in 2007, Underwood served as counsel and as chief assistant to the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York. She’s chaired the Executive Committee and the Council on Criminal Justice of the New York City Bar Association. However, although Underwood gets to work picking up where the disgraced Schneiderman left off, lost amid the politicians jockeying for position on New York’s totem pole are the families of New Yorkers killed by police. In a statement, family members of police brutality victims such as Eric Garner, Anthony Baez, Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham, Akai Gurley, Amadou Diallo, Kimani Gray and Delrawn Small reminded state legislators to not forget them when considering who’ll take Schneiderman’s place for state attorney general.
“As those directly impacted by police killings of our loved ones, we fought to establish the Office of New York State Attorney General as a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute police killings of civilians,” read the statement. “County district attorneys are too reliant on local law enforcement to maintain the independence and credibility required to investigate and prosecute police officers when they kill civilians. Since an acting attorney general will be appointed, it is critical that the New York State Legislature appoint someone who has a strong track record of holding law enforcement accountable for abuse and unjust killings and a demonstrated commitment to effectively implement the special prosecutor executive order.”
Tuesday, Cuomo named Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas as a special prosecutor to investigate the allegations against Schneiderman. Singas would have the power to subpoena, investigate and prosecute criminal charges against the former attorney general if necessary.
“Pursuant to the governor’s executive order, we will vigorously investigate the allegations for which jurisdictions has been granted,” said Singas in a statement. “To echo my earlier statement, I will not accept any appointment nor seek election to the office of the New York State Attorney General.”
The news didn’t sit well with Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who wanted to lead the probe against Schneiderman, but Cuomo pointed out the conflict of interest because before his resignation Schneiderman was reviewing Vance’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein.