Eric Schneiderman

AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File

Manhattan, Suffolk DA's Investigating Former Atty General Eric Schneiderman

May 08, 2018 - 6:38 pm
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NEW YORK (1010 WINS/AP) -- New York state's top crime fighter could be facing criminal charges now himself following stunning allegations of physical abuse from four women.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who held himself out as a champion of women and a liberal foil to President Donald Trump, is resigning from office after the women accused him of physical violence during intimate encounters.

On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio discussed the Schneiderman situation an said, "I was horrified. Page after page, it got worse and worse and worse and worse and it was horrifying and it was disgusting and it was unacceptable in every way. No one can do this to another human being -- you can't abuse people, you can't harass them, you can't use your power against them, you can threaten them -- you just can't do that," de Basio said.

Thank God he resigned quickly and didn't put the state through a nightmare. The most important thing here is brave women came forward and told the truth," the mayor added.

It was a swift and stunning fall for Schneiderman who had pledged to use the power of his office to hold others accountable for abusing their power.

In accounts published in The New Yorker on Monday, the women described being violently slapped and choked, verbally abused and threatened by Schneiderman. Some also described him as a heavy drinker.

The abuse often happened during what were supposed to be romantic encounters, but the women said the violence was not consensual.

Schneiderman, 63, issued a statement to The New Yorker, and later to other media outlets, implying that his conduct was either welcomed by the women, or was not as they described.

"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 non-consensual sex, which is a line I would not cross," he said.

But after fellow Democrats in New York, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, called for his resignation, he capitulated quickly.

"In the last several hours, serious allegations, which I strongly contest, have been made against me," he said in a statement late 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." He said he would resign at the close of business on Tuesday.

Cuomo on Tuesday called the allegations "shocking and disturbing," adding "these women should have their day in court."

The governor said this is part of a much bigger problem.

"We are revealing a chronic, longterm injustice some would say sickness certainly mistreatment and abuse of women, pervasive and chronic. News, journalism, film, politics, business," Cuomo said.

Two women who spoke to The New Yorker on the record, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, both said the physical abuse escalated over time. 

"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...," Manning Barish wrote on Twitter after the story was published.

Manning Barish said she was involved with Schneiderman from mid-2013 through the end of 2014. Selvaratnam said she was involved with him from the summer of 2016 until fall 2017.

Manning Barish said Schneiderman became violent a few weeks after they began dating. She said she confided in friends, including novelist Salman Rushdie.

Selvaratnam, who was born in Sri Lanka, said Schneiderman started calling her his "brown slave" and made her say that she was "his property."

"After I found out that other women had been abused by Attorney-General Schneiderman in a similar manner many years before me, I wondered, who's next, and knew something needed to be done," Selvaratnam said in a statement to the AP.

Schneiderman has been a vocal supporter of the #MeToo movement. He filed a lawsuit in February against disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Co. following an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. Schneiderman said the company broke New York law by failing to protect employees from "pervasive sexual harassment, intimidation and discrimination."

He launched a civil rights probe into the New York City-based company in October after The New York Times and The New Yorker exposed allegations of sexual assault and harassment spanning decades. The company later fired Weinstein.

The women accusing him said seeing him speak out on these issues was part of what prompted them to come forward.

He also has been a longtime critic of President Donald Trump, and has been part of several efforts to push back against some of his actions in the White House, like the rescinding of protection for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Last month, he urged state lawmakers to close a loophole that he said could be used to fight state charges by anyone who has received a federal pardon for similar federal charges.

On Twitter, Donald Trump Jr. offered pointed commentary. He showcased one of Schneiderman's tweets from last year saying that he would remind President Trump that no one was above the law, with Trump Jr. adding, "You were saying???"

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office says it is opening a criminal investigation into the accusations. Cuomo said Vance's investigation of Schneiderman is a potential conflict of interest because Schneiderman had been investigating Vance over the Harvey Weinstein case.

Schneiderman, a former state senator, became attorney general in 2010 and had been running for re-election this year. Under the New York Constitution, a vacancy in the office is filled by the state Legislature. Barbara Underwood will step in as acting attorney general. She has been the state's Solitictor General since 2007. Before that she served as Chief Assistant to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. She has also worked in the Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn district attorney offices. She got an undergraduate degree from Harvard and law degree from Georgetown.  

Underwood released a statement saying, "I am honored to serve the people of New York as acting attorney general. 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."

Cuomo wants “an open and deliberative” process to replace Schneiderman temporarily before a primary in September and a general election in November.

“Short term, I think the office is in fine hands,” Cuomo says of Underwood.

(© 2018 1010 WINS. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)