Nation & World

New York State Attorney General Schneiderman resigns after accusations of physical abuse of women

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at Town Hall in New York City, New York on June 16, 2017. Schneiderman, an outspoken supporter of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, has been accused of physically abusing four women. (Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA/TNS)
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at Town Hall in New York City, New York on June 16, 2017. Schneiderman, an outspoken supporter of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, has been accused of physically abusing four women. (Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA/TNS)

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced his resignation late Monday night, hours after he was accused of physically abusing four women in an article published by the New Yorker.

Schneiderman said he continued to “strongly contest” the allegations, which included women saying that he choked and slapped them, but felt they would prevent him from his work as the top law enforcement official in New York state.

“In the last several hours, serious allegations, which I strongly contest, have been made against me,” he said in a statement Monday. “While these allegations are unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of the office, 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 on May 8, 2018.”

Two women, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, spoke to the magazine on the record, and said that they were in romantic relationships with Schneiderman when he choked and slapped them, leading them to seek medical treatment.

Selvaratnam said that Schneiderman warned her he could have her followed and her phones tapped. Both women said he threatened to kill them if they ended their relationships with him, according to the magazine’s story. Schneiderman’s spokesperson told the magazine that he “never made any of those these threats.”

A third woman made similar accusations of nonconsensual physical violence, and a fourth, an attorney who has held high positions in the New York legal sphere, told the New Yorker that after she rejected one of Schneiderman’s advances, he “slapped her across the face with such force that it left a mark that lingered the next day.” All four women said their physical abuse was not consensual.

Schneiderman quickly denied assaulting the women, and in a statement on Twitter said: “In the privacy of intimate relationships, 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.”

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The allegations against Schneiderman came as he had taken on an increased national profile due to his repeated legal challenges to the Trump administration. He has also pushed recently for the state to change its laws so that he and his office could prosecute people connected to Trump if the president winds up pardoning them.

Schneiderman, a Democrat who was first elected in 2010 and was up for a potential third term later this year, has been an outspoken advocate for women. His office filed a civil rights lawsuit in February against the movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of repeated assaults and attacks on women, as well as his brother and the Weinstein Company. In March, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D, directed Schneiderman to review how the Manhattan district attorney handled a sexual assault allegation against Weinstein.

“We are deeply familiar with Harvey Weinstein’s years of egregious sexual abuse, and recently filed a civil rights lawsuit against him alleging severe and persistent abuse of employees at [The Weinstein Company],” Schneiderman said in a statement at the time. “We are committed to pursuing a full, fair, and independent review of this matter.”

The New Yorker story was written by Jane Mayer, an acclaimed veteran of the magazine, and Ronan Farrow, who recently shared in a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in the magazine on the allegations against Weinstein.

The New York Police Department said in a statement Monday night that it did not have any complaints on file regarding Schneiderman. A spokesman said if any such complaints are received, the department would “investigate them thoroughly.”

Manning Barish told The New Yorker that about four weeks after their physical relationship began, Schneiderman became violent. She recalled to the magazine how Schneiderman slapped her one night after they had both been drinking:

“ ‘All of a sudden, he just slapped me, open-handed and with great force, across the face, landing the blow directly onto my ear,’ “ Manning Barish says. “ ‘It was horrendous. It just came out of nowhere. My ear was ringing. I lost my balance and fell backward onto the bed. I sprang up, but at this point there was very little room between the bed and him. I got up to try to shove him back, or take a swing, and he pushed me back down. He then used his body weight to hold me down, and he began to choke me. The choking was very hard. It was really bad. I kicked. In every fibre, I felt I was being beaten by a man.’ “

On Monday, shortly after the article’s publication, Manning Barish tweeted a link to it, adding, “After the most difficult month of my life-I spoke up. For my daughter and for all women. I could not remain silent and encourage other women to be brave for me. I could not.”

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Selvaratnam too told The New Yorker that many of the attacks occurred after Schneiderman had been drinking. He often drank heavily, she said, consuming a bottle and half of wine or more - and then berated her the next morning for “not having kept him away from the alcohol,” the magazine reported.

Selvaratnam described how, on the morning of Jan. 19, 2017 - the day before Trump’s inauguration - Schneiderman called her from a hospital emergency room:

“ ‘He told me that he’d been drinking the night before he fell down. He didn’t realize he’d cut himself, and got into bed, and when he woke up he was in a pool of blood.’ “ Selvaratnam rushed to the hospital. Schneiderman had several stitches above his left eye; his face was puffy and bruised. He had her send his press secretary a photograph of the injury, and they agreed to cancel a public appearance. In the image, which was shared with The New Yorker, Schneiderman has a black eye and a bandage across the left side of his forehead. Schneiderman then called Cunningham, his ex-wife and political consultant, and they agreed that he and Selvaratnam should tell anyone who asked about the injury that he had fallen “ ‘while running.’ “

Shortly before the article was published online, Cunningham told the magazine that she was surprised by the accusations against her ex-husband.

“I’ve known Eric for nearly thirty-five years as a husband, father, and friend,” she told The New Yorker. “These allegations are completely inconsistent with the man I know, who has always been someone of the highest character, outstanding values, and a loving father. I find it impossible to believe these allegations are true.”

Within hours of the accusations being made public, New York’s top Democratic leaders called for Schneiderman to step down. Cuomo, had issued a statement before Schneiderman’s resignation calling for an investigation and urging his fellow Democratic official to resign.

“My personal opinion is that, given the damning pattern of facts and corroboration laid out in the article, I do not believe it is possible for Eric Schneiderman to continue to serve as Attorney General, and for the good of the office, he should resign,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in a statement Monday called the accusations of violence “abhorrent.”

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“Based on this extensive and serious reporting, I do not believe that Eric Schneiderman should continue to serve as Attorney General,” she said. “There should be a full and immediate investigation into these credible allegations.”

Calls for Schneiderman’s resignation were echoed by Republican leaders as well. Schneiderman has been a longtime opponent of President Donald Trump, an antagonistic history that predated his wave of legal actions against the president’s policies in office. In 2013, Schneiderman filed a suit against Trump’s now-defunct real estate seminar program, Trump University, which later settled for $25 million. Schneiderman also launched an investigation into Trump’s charitable foundation, and when Trump announced before taking office that he would shut down his foundation, Schneiderman’s office said it could not dissolve until that probe concluded.

On Monday, Trump’s son dug up one of Schneiderman’s old tweets in which he said, “No one is above the law.” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted at him, “You were saying???”

The New York GOP called for Schneiderman to step down, and said the accusations were “dark and disturbing.”

“It’s clear Eric has no place holding any public office, let alone as the state’s #1 law enforcement officer,” the party said in a statement on Twitter. “He must resign immediately.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., tweeted that an attorney general knows “he can’t consent on behalf of the woman he’s assaulting.” He called for a resignation and an apology from Schneiderman.

“As [Schneiderman] would say, kudos to ‘the brave women and men who spoke up about the sexual harassment they had endured at the hands of powerful men,’ “ Zeldin said.

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