NEW YORK — New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Tuesday ended nearly 10 years as the state’s top law enforcement officer under an investigation of allegations by four women who say he physically assaulted them.
The investigation caps a remarkably swift fall for Schneiderman, a high-profile Democrat who had been a public advocate for women but who was accused of repeatedly slapping and choking multiple women. Schneiderman denied the allegations, but three hours after they were published in a New Yorker article on Monday evening, he said he would leave office the following day.
The Manhattan and Long Island district attorneys offices said they had opened investigations into the matter. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said Tuesday that multiple district attorneys may become involved.
“These women should have their day in court,” Cuomo said. “They should have the opportunity to tell a district attorney the facts and circumstances and then let the district attorney or district attorneys make a decision as to whether they was any criminal liability.”
New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D) said he was happy that Schneiderman resigned quickly and that he hopes others who believe they were victims of Schneiderman will come forward and contact police. “Rest assured, you will be believed and that the information will be important to protecting others,” he said.
Two women, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, told the New Yorker that Schneiderman had choked and slapped them, leading them to seek medical treatment. A third woman, who was not identified, made similar accusations of nonconsensual physical violence, while a fourth — who was not identified but was described as an attorney who has held high positions in the New York legal sphere — told the magazine that when 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 denied the allegations. “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.”
The allegations were stunning given Schneiderman’s track record of advocating for women, including pursuing a case against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of repeated assaults and attacks on women.
Manning Barish, an activist and writer, replied on Twitter to a message from actress Rose McGowman, who has accused Weinstein of rape, “Because you you, my sister, @rosemcgowan because of your bravery to speak truth to power and face your perpetrator, you have given so many women the strength to use their own voices. Bravery is contagious; but truth is unstoppable.”
Schneiderman was first elected attorney general in 2010 and was expected to easily win a third term in November with no Democratic primary challenger. He was widely believed to be preparing to eventually run for New York governor.
“The guy’s future was limitless,” said Douglas Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College. Now “he is going to be known for the hypocrisy of his private life versus his public life. That becomes the story more than his substantive accomplishments.”
Schneiderman was also an outspoken foe of President Trump, filing more than 100 lawsuits challenging the administration on immigration, environmental standards and taxation. Last month, Schneiderman sought to expand his powers to prosecute people who have received a presidential pardon.
Those efforts are likely to be slowed, if not significantly hampered, as New York scrambles to find a permanent replacement for Schneiderman, said Muzzio.
“There’s all kinds of high political drama going on,” he said, and as for the lawsuits Schneiderman was leading against the Trump administration, they may lose a step. “In fact, it may be backwards steps in terms of the issues he fought for,” Muzzio said. “It’s a setback, at least temporarily.”
Schneiderman, 63, is being temporarily replaced by New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood, a former Yale Law School professor who once worked as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. The New York State Senate and Assembly will choose a permanent successor by joint ballot.
“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,” Underwood said in a statement. But as the state’s Democrats huddled in meetings Tuesday, no clear timeline emerged.
An earlier investigation of Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. over his handling of a sexual assault allegation against Weinstein highlights the sea change facing Schneiderman. Just two months earlier, Cuomo tasked Schneiderman with investigating the matter. Now, a spokesman in Vance’s office said in a statement that the district attorney’s office “has opened an investigation into the recently reported allegations concerning Mr. Schneiderman.”
The earlier probe may create a “perception issue” with Vance’s office leading an investigation, Cuomo said. “I want to make sure that there is no question that the district attorney who is investigating is wholly impartial,” he said.
The women described abuse that occurred in several counties in New York, which could give a number of district attorneys the authority to investigate, said Cuomo.
Neither women named in the New Yorker story reported Schneiderman’s alleged abuse to the police at the time, according to the article. They could not be immediately reached for comment on whether they would cooperate with such an investigation.
James P. O’Neill, the New York City police commissioner, said the department’s chief of detectives had spoken Tuesday morning with Vance about the “very serious allegations” against Schneiderman and that was comfortable working with that office despite concerns raised by Cuomo. O’Neill said he would not speculate about what charges Schneiderman could face.
Authorities plan to contact the people identified in the article to conduct “a full investigation” into the accusations, O’Neill said at the news conference. As of Tuesday afternoon, police have not received any complaints regarding Schneiderman, O’Neill said.
Schneiderman is looking for a criminal defense attorney, according to New York Times, which cited unidentified people familiar with the situation.
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