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New York’s attorney general resigns after four women accuse him of physical abuse

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned Monday night, stepping down from office hours after he was accused of physically abusing four women in an article published by the New Yorker. The Manhattan district attorney’s office said it has launched an investigation into the allegations.

The women said Schneiderman, the top law enforcement official in New York state and a prominent opponent of President Trump, choked and repeatedly slapped them. In announcing his resignation, Schneiderman said he continued to “strongly contest” the allegations but felt he had to leave office.

“In the last several hours, serious allegations, which I strongly contest, have been made against me,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “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 his resignation would be effective “at the close of business” on Tuesday, marking a sudden, stunning fall for a politician expected to one day run for governor in New York. They also showed again the power of allegations of physical and sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era, adding Schneiderman — who had advocated for women — to the lengthy list of high-profile men who have fallen from power after women came forward to make painful accusations.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced on Nov. 28, 2017, an agreement with a hospital to prevent sexual assault victims from being billed. (Video: Attorney General Eric Schneiderman)

Two women, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, told the New Yorker on the record that they had been in romantic relationships with Schneiderman when he choked and slapped them, leading them to seek medical treatment.

They described patterns of emotional as well as physical abuse. Selvaratnam said Schneiderman warned her he could have her followed and her phones tapped. Both women said he threatened to kill them if they ended their relationships with him, according to the magazine’s story. Schneiderman’s spokesperson told the magazine that he “never made any of these threats.”

The New Yorker also said a third woman made similar accusations of nonconsensual physical violence, while a fourth — described as an attorney who has held high positions in the New York legal sphere — told the magazine that when she rejected one of Schneiderman’s advances, he “slapped her across the face with such force that it left a mark that lingered the next day.” All four women said their physical abuse was not consensual.

Schneiderman had denied assaulting the women, saying in a statement: “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.”

The New York Police Department said in a statement Monday night that it did not have any complaints on file regarding Schneiderman. A spokesman said if any such complaints are received, the department would “investigate them thoroughly.”

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The allegations against Schneiderman came after he had taken on an increased national profile due to his repeated legal challenges to the Trump administration. He also pushed recently for the state to change its laws so that he and his office could prosecute people connected to Trump if the president winds up pardoning them.

Schneiderman, a Democrat who was first elected in 2010 and was up for a potential third term later this year, has been an outspoken advocate for women. His office filed a civil rights lawsuit in February against the movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of repeated assaults and attacks on women, as well as against his brother and the Weinstein Company. In March, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) directed Schneiderman to review how Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, handled a sexual assault allegation against Weinstein.

“We are deeply familiar with Harvey Weinstein’s years of egregious sexual abuse, and recently filed a civil rights lawsuit against him alleging severe and persistent abuse of employees at [the Weinstein Company],” Schneiderman said in a statement at the time.

Just two months later, Schneiderman is now facing an investigation from Vance’s office. A spokesman for Vance said in a statement that his office “has opened an investigation into the recently reported allegations concerning Mr. Schneiderman.”

The New Yorker story was written by Jane Mayer, an acclaimed veteran of the magazine, and Ronan Farrow, who recently shared in a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in the magazine on the allegations against Weinstein.

Manning Barish told the New Yorker that about four weeks after their physical relationship began, Schneiderman became violent. She recalled to the magazine how Schneiderman slapped her one night after they had both been drinking:

“All of a sudden, he just slapped me, openhanded and with great force, across the face, landing the blow directly onto my ear,” Manning Barish says. “It was horrendous. It just came out of nowhere. My ear was ringing. I lost my balance and fell backward onto the bed. I sprang up, but at this point there was very little room between the bed and him. I got up to try to shove him back, or take a swing, and he pushed me back down. He then used his body weight to hold me down, and he began to choke me. The choking was very hard. It was really bad. I kicked. In every fibre, I felt I was being beaten by a man.”

On Monday, shortly after the article’s publication, Manning Barish tweeted a link to it, adding, “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.”

Jennifer Cunningham, Schneiderman’s ex-wife and a political strategist, released a statement Monday saying she was surprised by the accusations against her ex-husband.

“I’ve known Eric for nearly thirty-five years as a husband, father, and friend,” she said. “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.”

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In the New Yorker story, Selvaratnam said many of the attacks occurred after Schneiderman drank alcohol. He often drank heavily, she said, consuming a bottle and half of wine or more — and then berated her the next morning for “not having kept him away from the alcohol,” the magazine reported.

Selvaratnam described how, on the morning of Jan. 19, 2017 — the day before Trump’s inauguration — Schneiderman called her from a hospital emergency room:

“He told me that he’d been drinking the night before he fell down. He didn’t realize he’d cut himself, and got into bed, and when he woke up he was in a pool of blood.” Selvaratnam rushed to the hospital. Schneiderman had several stitches above his left eye; his face was puffy and bruised. He had her send his press secretary a photograph of the injury, and they agreed to cancel a public appearance. In the image, which was shared with The New Yorker, Schneiderman has a black eye and a bandage across the left side of his forehead. Schneiderman then called Cunningham, his ex-wife and political consultant, and they agreed that he and Selvaratnam should tell anyone who asked about the injury that he had fallen “while running.”

After the allegations were published on the New Yorker’s site, numerous officials began to call on Schneiderman to leave office, including Cuomo, the New York governor.

“My personal opinion is that, given the damning pattern of facts and corroboration laid out in the article, I do not believe it is possible for Eric Schneiderman to continue to serve as Attorney General, and for the good of the office, he should resign,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Cynthia Nixon, who is running for governor of New York, called the allegations against Schneiderman “sickening.”

“The women who came forward so courageously to tell their stories and spared others from suffering are heroines,” she said in a statement. “The investigation should continue. We need to get to the bottom of the enormous culture of silence that protects those in power. We must continue to work to end this national epidemic.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) called the accusations of violence “abhorrent.”

“Based on this extensive and serious reporting, I do not believe that Eric Schneiderman should continue to serve as Attorney General,” she said in a statement. “There should be a full and immediate investigation into these credible allegations.”

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Calls for Schneiderman’s resignation were echoed by Republican leaders as well. The New York GOP called for Schneiderman to step down and said the accusations were “dark and disturbing.”

“It’s clear Eric has no place holding any public office, let alone as the state’s #1 law enforcement officer,” the party said in a statement on Twitter. “He must resign immediately.”

Schneiderman has been a longtime opponent of Trump, an antagonistic history that predated his wave of legal actions against the president’s policies in office. In 2013, Schneiderman filed a suit against Trump’s now-defunct real estate seminar program, Trump University, which later settled for $25 million. Schneiderman also launched an investigation into Trump’s charitable foundation, and when Trump announced before taking office that he would shut down his foundation, Schneiderman’s office said it could not dissolve until that probe concluded.

On Monday, one of Trump’s sons responded to the New Yorker article by digging up one of Schneiderman’s old tweets in which he said, “No one is above the law.” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted at Schneiderman: “You were saying???”

Other allies of Trump similarly weighed in to revel in the news about Schneiderman, including Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, who wrote “Gotcha” on Monday night while sharing the same tweet Trump’s son had highlighted. A day earlier, during an appearance on CNN, Conway had referred to all of the women who accused Trump of unwanted sexual contact as “what the president referred to as false accusers.”

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This story has been updated since it was first published.