New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Schneiderman to Resign Amid Abuse Allegations

May 8, 2018
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by Leila Miller Tow Journalism Fellow, FRONTLINE/Columbia Journalism School Fellowships

In a surprising fall, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is scheduled to step down Tuesday, following a report in The New Yorker that he assaulted four women who had romantic relationships or encounters with him.

As the news broke on Monday evening, Schneiderman denied the allegations. “In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity,” he said on Twitter. “I have not assaulted anyone. I have never engaged in nonconsensual sex, which is a line I would not cross.”

But within hours he announced he would step down, saying that while the allegations were unrelated to his professional conduct, “they will effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time.”

It was a surreal contrast to Schneiderman’s profile as a prominent backer of the “Me Too” movement and his vocal support for victims who alleged abuse by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

In February, Schneiderman, a Democrat, filed a civil lawsuit against The Weinstein Company, alleging that its company executives and board repeatedly failed to take steps to reign Weinstein’s behavior. He also scuttled an earlier deal to sell the company because he felt it didn’t include sufficient compensation for victims or strict enough sexual harassment policies.

In March, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had ordered Schneiderman to review the Manhattan district attorney’s handling of a 2015 sexual assault allegation against Weinstein. The investigation focused on the decision by District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. not to prosecute Weinstein following a police sting that had secretly recorded Weinstein apologizing to Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez for groping her. Vance’s office announced on Monday that it had opened an investigation into the allegations against Schneiderman.

In The New Yorker article, four women accused Schneiderman of nonconsensual physical violence. Two of them, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, alleged that Schneiderman repeatedly hit them, often in bed and without their consent. They said that they required medical treatment after being slapped across the face and choked.

Manning Barish described how Schneiderman slapped her in his apartment while they were getting ready for bed one night.

“It just came out of nowhere,” she said. “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.”

Legislators including New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand urged the attorney general to resign following the story’s publication. Cuomo said that he would call for an immediate investigation.

“No one is above the law, including New York’s top legal officer,” he said in a statement. “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.”

Schneiderman’s resignation is effective end of the day Tuesday. The attorney general, who had been elected to office in 2010, had been up for re-election this year. New York’s State Assembly and Senate will select Schneiderman’s replacement. In the meantime, Barbara Underwood, the state’s solicitor general, has been named New York’s acting attorney general.

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