Tuesday 17 July 2018

Abuse probe follows allegations against New York attorney general

Eric Schneiderman had been a vocal champion of women and a critic of US president Donald Trump.

Eric Schneiderman denies the allegations (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
Eric Schneiderman denies the allegations (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

By Deepti Hajela, Associated Press

The Manhattan district attorney’s office is investigating allegations of physical violence against women by New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, who held himself out as a champion of women and a liberal foil to President Donald Trump.

Mr Schneiderman resigned from office late on Monday, just hours after accounts of abuse by four women were published in The New Yorker.

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

The women described being violently slapped and choked, verbally abused and threatened by Mr Schneiderman. Some also described him as a heavy drinker.

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

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Eric Schneiderman resigned after high-profile New York Democrats urged him to go (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

A statement from Danny Frost, a spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R Vance Jr, said prosecutors would look into the claims.

Mr Schneiderman’s office had been tasked with investigating the Manhattan district attorney’s office over its handling of a 2015 sex assault probe involving Harvey Weinstein that resulted in no criminal charges.

NYPD officials said they had not received any complaints, but would investigate thoroughly should any others come forward.

Mr 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 governor Andrew Cuomo and US senator 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.

“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.

The state’s solicitor general, Barbara Underwood, will serve as acting attorney general. She has a long history of legal work including serving in the Eastern District of New York and in the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens district attorney offices.

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…” Ms Manning Barish wrote on Twitter after the story was published.

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

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

Ms Selvaratnam, who was born in Sri Lanka, said Mr 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,” Ms Selvaratnam said.

Mr 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. Mr 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 sacked Mr Weinstein.

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

Mr Schneiderman, a former state senator, became attorney general in 2010 and had been running for re-election this year. He also has been a longtime critic of President Trump, and has been part of several efforts to push back against some of his actions in the White House, such as the rescinding of protection for immigrants brought to the US illegally as children.

Last month, he urged state legislators 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 Mr 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???”

Press Association

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