It’s fitting that President Trump’s first tweet about New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was this one.
The “witch hunt” of five years ago wasn’t against Trump specifically but was focused on Wall Street. In short order, though, Schneiderman publicly targeted Trump University, suing Trump for fraud in August 2013. From that point on, he became one of Trump’s favorite targets.
On Monday evening, the New Yorker broke news that, while disturbing, will no doubt prompt some schadenfreude from the president. Four women have accused Schneiderman of assaulting them physically over the course of romantic relationships, charges he has denied. In short order, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) suggested that Schneiderman should resign, and later Monday night, the attorney general quit.
It’s a remarkable turn of fortune for Schneiderman, who was broadly thought to be trying to follow Cuomo and former governor Eliot Spitzer’s path to the state house: leveraging the power of the state’s top law enforcement position to win political fights against behemoths like the finance industry — and, in Schneiderman’s case, a certain high-profile New York real estate developer. Since Trump was inaugurated, Schneiderman has repeatedly sued the Trump administration over environmental, immigration and other issues. What’s more, he has been outspoken in his criticism of other men accused of sexual misconduct in the wake of revelations about movie producer Harvey Weinstein; in fact, in February, he filed a civil rights lawsuit against Weinstein.
Before all of this, though, Trump complained about him relentlessly.
In the three days after Schneiderman filed suit against Trump in 2013, Trump tweeted about him 18 times. He called him “lightweight” repeatedly and suggested that he was corrupt. He insisted that the lawsuit against Trump University was political in nature and that he would be vindicated.
The battle was similar to other Twitter feuds in which Trump engaged during that period, like his extended fight against wind farms, stemming from his opposition to a proposed installation near his golf course in Scotland. In each case, his complaints were a mix of insults, vague threats and the use of questionable evidence to try to cast as many aspersions as possible on his opponent. Among Trump’s critiques were Schneiderman’s “illegal” use of attorney general stationery (to write a nice note to Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner), and on multiple occasions he accused Schneiderman of wearing eyeliner.
At the time, Kushner owned a newspaper called the New York Observer — and the Observer was hard at work.
In late February 2014, the paper dropped an extensive critique of Schneiderman that Trump quickly hailed on Twitter. (The next day, though, Trump lamented that the story was “far too nice to sleazebag” Schneiderman.) The piece charged that Schneiderman used his position to punish his enemies — and spent more than a few words criticizing the lawsuit against Trump University. “Nearly everybody attending the Trump seminars enjoyed the experience,” it argued, echoing Trump’s claims on the campaign trail in 2016.
Given the link between the paper’s owner and Trump, questions soon arose about the objectivity of the report. The New York Times’ Ravi Somaiya reported that the author of the article, Michael Craig, wasn’t the Observer’s first choice; editor Ken Kurson (a veteran of former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s presidential campaign) had first asked a guy named Bill Gifford to write about Schneiderman. It meant potentially eating into time at Gifford’s day job, running an ice cream shop in New Jersey.
“Mr. Kurson described Mr. Schneiderman as a ‘bad guy’ and a ‘phony,’ and hired Mr. Gifford for the writing assignment,” Somaiya reported. Gifford “became convinced that the article ‘was supposed to be basically a smear piece’ and he quit the job.”
At the time, Trump was just starting to leverage the conservative-media relationships that would serve him well in 2016. After McKay Coppins, then at BuzzFeed, wrote an essay disparaging Trump’s halfhearted campaign for governor in New York in 2014, Trump went on the warpath, enlisting Breitbart’s Matthew Boyle to attack Coppins personally.
The Observer piece quickly faded from attention, having landed few blows on Schneiderman.
During the presidential campaign, Schneiderman continued to use Trump as a foil. After The Washington Post reported that Trump had used his personal foundation to pay for paintings of himself and other improper expenditures, the attorney general announced that he would investigate the foundation’s operations. In October 2016, he ordered that the foundation stop accepting contributions. By December 2016, Trump said the foundation would shut down.
As the campaign wound on, so did Schneiderman’s lawsuit against Trump University. A similar one in California spurred one of Trump’s most contentious comments on the campaign trail, when he suggested that Judge Gonzalo Curiel, tapped to oversee the case, couldn’t be objective because Curiel was of Mexican heritage. (He was born in Indiana.) Trump repeatedly insisted that he wouldn’t settle the lawsuits because he didn’t do that (he did) and that he would win the lawsuit easily. Shortly after Trump won the election, he settled his lawsuit with New York at a cost of $25 million.
Last month, Schneiderman launched a new broadside at the president, asking the New York legislature to pass a bill allowing him to file criminal charges against people who had been pardoned by the president. (Double-jeopardy laws bar such charges.) Were Schneiderman given that authority, it would greatly diminish Trump’s ability to use his pardon power to shape the outcome of the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
After the New Yorker story broke, Trump didn’t immediately celebrate the defeat of his long-standing rival, but his son Donald Trump Jr. wasted little time.
Expect the elder Trump to follow suit.