It took less time for former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s (D) career to end than it takes to drive from New York City to D.C. If you got in your car in Manhattan Monday at 6 p.m., Schneiderman was a rising star in the Democratic political world with an eye on the State House, at least. By the time you got to the White House, Schneiderman had resigned in disgrace. Even in the context of the roiling world of sexual harassment and abuse allegations that began with news reports about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, Schneiderman’s plunge to earth was shockingly fast.
But, stepping back, the speed of his fall wasn’t that surprising — for three reasons.
Consider 10 men against whom allegations have been leveled.
- Former Minnesota senator Al Franken (D), accused of forced touching and kissing.
- Former Michigan representative John Conyers Jr. (D), who quietly settled sexual harassment charges by staff.
- Former Texas representative Blake Farenthold (R), who did the same.
- Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.), accused of harassing a campaign worker
- Political consultant Corey Lewandowski, accused of slapping singer Joy Villa on her backside.
- Gov. Eric Greitens (R-Mo.), facing criminal charges related to an incident of alleged sexual assault.
- Former Pennsylvania congressman Patrick Meehan (R), accused of harassment.
- Former Republican Party fundraising chairman Steve Wynn, accused of assault and misconduct.
- Former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, accused of domestic abuse.
The repercussions those men have faced have varied, as has the timeline on which they’ve been forced to respond to the allegations. The graphic below shows the length of time between when allegations emerged and when (if ever) those accused announced their resignations or intention not to seek reelection.
Schneiderman’s situation has three factors that were common among those who were forced to quickly resign their positions.
- Severity. While any improper conduct or harassment deserves investigation, the allegations against Schneiderman first revealed by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow involved violence and abuse that weren’t part of the accusations faced by many of the political figures above. One exception is Porter, who resigned his position at the White House quickly after photographs of his ex-wife with a black eye became public. (Greitens is an obvious outlier here.) It’s worth noting, too, that most of the allegations included above included well-documented evidence and contemporaneous confirmation. The Schneiderman allegations were both severe and sufficiently documented that he was forced to acknowledge their legitimacy quickly.
- The number of accusers. Many of those who eventually resigned faced accusations from multiple people. Franken seemed at first to be able to ward off calls for his resignation, but as the number of accusers slowly increased, his position became untenable. Wynn, Porter and Schneiderman all had multiple accusers from the outset, making it more likely that they would face more pressure to resign quickly.
- Electoral politics. Schneiderman was up for reelection this year. Democrats had no interest in having someone run for that seat from a position as weak as Schneiderman’s had quickly become and, with the state’s nominating convention coming in two weeks, there was still an opportunity to find a replacement candidate.
That last point is important. One of the women who detailed allegations against Schneiderman reports having been told by friends that “Schneiderman was too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose” and so she should keep her story to herself. Had the allegations been revealed after Schneiderman was reelected (which seemed inevitable 24 hours ago), he may have been able to last in his position longer than a few hours.
It’s also important when considering another set of allegations that has emerged recently, those against former president George H.W. Bush. There are no real repercussions for a former president to face and, despite accusations of inappropriate touching by multiple women, Bush doesn’t seem to have endured much more than some grumbling and having had to apologize.
We can’t talk about allegations against presidents without naming two other presidents, of course: Donald Trump and Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was first accused of rape by Juanita Broaddrick in 1999, well before the current moment of reckoning. Trump was first accused of inappropriate sexual contact shortly after he was asked about his groping comments in the “Access Hollywood” tape during a presidential debate. Neither has faced significant repercussions for those accusations.
Clinton has faced some repercussions, albeit minor ones; he’s no longer seen as an unalloyed asset on the campaign trail. The third point on our list about Schneiderman works to Trump’s benefit. Many Republicans didn’t want to condemn Trump significantly right before the 2016 election, allowing Trump more space to deny the accusations than he might otherwise have received. Now that he’s president, interest in pursuing the accusations has declined further.
Some of the allegations, such as those against Lewandowski, are at the opposite end of the spectrum from Schneiderman. One accuser, a less-severe accusation and an accused individual who doesn’t serve in a position that’s subject to public pressure.
All of those things worked against Schneiderman. So it took only hours for him to go from future governor to a guy trying to line up a criminal defense team.