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AG Eric Schneiderman resigns after magazine reports allegations

Attorney general accused of physically assaulting four women, New Yorker reports. Schneiderman denies the allegations but says he’s stepping down.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, seen

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, seen here on April 3. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Drew Angerer

ALBANY — State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman abruptly resigned Monday following a report in the New Yorker magazine that four women claimed he had physically assaulted them.

Schneiderman denied the allegations but 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. I therefore resign my office, effective at the close of business on May 8, 2018.”

About an hour before the attorney general quit, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, had called on Schneiderman to resign and said he would ask for an immediate investigation after designating an “appropriate district attorney.”

As news of the allegations spread, more officials called for Schneiderman’s immediate resignation — including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a leader of the #MeToo movement who was a driving force behind the resignation of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) following sexual harassment complaints.

The New Yorker reported that the accusers, who all had romantic relationships with the Democrat — a vocal supporter of the #MeToo anti-sexual harassment campaign — claimed he “repeatedly hit them, often after drinking, frequently in bed and never with their consent.”

Gillibrand called the allegations against Schneiderman “abhorrent” and said he “should not continue to serve as attorney general,” adding, “There should be a full and immediate investigation into these credible allegations.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) also called for Schneiderman to quit.

In an earlier statement to Newsday, Schneiderman denied the allegations, saying: “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.”

An NYPD spokesman said the department has “no complaints on file” against Schneiderman, adding if it receives any complaints the NYPD will “investigate them thoroughly.”

Two of the women, identified as Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, said they went on the record with the New Yorker because they wanted to protect other women. They categorized the behavior as “assault” and said they sought medical attention after being slapped and choked. They accused Schneiderman of threatening to kill them if they broke up with him.

Two other women talked to The New Yorker but asked to remain anonymous because they said they feared reprisals.

All of the women told the magazine the violence wasn’t consensual.

Selvaratnam said in the article: “This wasn’t sexual playacting. This was abusive, demeaning, threatening behavior.”

She added they “could rarely have sex without him beating me.”

In a Facebook message after the story was published, Barish wrote: “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.” Regarding the New Yorker story, she added: “It is all true. Except for the words of one man.”

The magazine said Barish shared medical records that showed she was treated for a severe ear injury — the doctor removed “dried, bloody crust” from her ear. She said she lied about the cause of the injury to the doctor because she was “protecting Eric.”

Schneiderman has been a rising star in the Democratic Party and a favorite among progressives for his frequent fights with President Donald Trump. He had been vocal about the #MeToo movement and praised the “brave women and men who spoke up about what they had endured at the hands of powerful men.”

In February, Schneiderman announced he was filing a civil rights lawsuit against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein for alleged sexual assault. And earlier this month, Schneiderman, at Cuomo’s direction, opened an investigation into how Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. handled past complaints against Weinstein.

Schneiderman’s ex-wife called the allegations “impossible to believe.” Jennifer Cunningham, a prominent lobbyist who had a daughter with Schneiderman, said: “I have known Eric for nearly 35 years as a husband, father and friend. 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.”

Manny Alicandro, a Republican running for attorney general, also called for Schneiderman’s immediate resignation.

“If these allegations are true,” Alicandro said, “Schneiderman is a monster and the only taxpayer-funded accommodations he deserves is in a correctional facility.”

The resignation also throws the 2018 Democratic ticket into turmoil just two weeks before the party’s convention. Schneiderman’s resignation not only will set off a scramble to find a replacement, but also raises questions about whether the State Legislature would act to fill the seat before Election Day or leave the office vacant.

As when ex-Comptroller Alan Hevesi resigned amid scandal, the Legislature has the power to select a replacement without requiring a special election. In 2007, it selected Thomas DiNapoli to succeed Hevesi.

Such a maneuver requires a joint vote of the Senate and Assembly. Since Assembly Democrats feature the largest bloc of votes — currently 104 of the 213 total seats in the Legislature — they would practically control the decision.

Unlike 2007, however, Schneiderman’s resignation comes in the final year of his term and just weeks before the party’s officials designate candidates, meaning there will be great pressure for the Legislature to hold off any action.

One name that already surfaced as a possible Schneiderman successor on the Democratic ticket is Rep. Kathleen Rice, a source said. She lost a 2010 attorney general primary to Schneiderman.

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