New York Attorney General Schneiderman Resigns Following Abuse Allegations

Friends reportedly said he was 'too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose' (Updated)

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman / Getty Images
May 7, 2018

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has resigned from office mere hours after a bombshell report that four women have accused him of physical assault and death threats.

The women said they could not maintain their silence in the face of his political posturing as one of the Democratic party's foremost champions for women, the New Yorker reported. The women allege that his pattern of behavior involves excessive drinking and forcing them to do likewise, choking and slapping them without their consent, and threatening their lives.

Schneiderman denies the charges, but nevertheless, he announced his resignation Monday night.

"It’s been my great honor and privilege to serve as attorney general for the people of the State of New York," Schneiderman said in a statement. "In the last several hours, serious allegations, which I strongly contest, have been made against me."

"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," Schneiderman said.

Former girlfriend Michelle Manning Barish expressed her disgust that Schneiderman was honored as one of the National Institute for Reproductive Health's "champions of choice" last week.

"You cannot be a champion of women when you are hitting them and choking them in bed, and saying to them, ‘You’re a f*cking whore,’" she said.

Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, released a statement saying the group is "appalled" by the details of the allegations.

"This is especially disappointing given his long history of advocacy and action in support of women’s rights," Miller wrote. "We believe it is our collective duty to trust women. It takes extraordinary courage to come forward with allegations of this magnitude — we hope they are taken seriously and that justice is served."

Schneiderman admitted to "role-playing and other consensual sexual activity" in a statement, but said, "I have not assaulted anyone. I have never engaged in nonconsensual sex, which is a line I would not cross."

Schneiderman has been in charge of the investigation into disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was the subject of another bombshell New Yorker report, which is widely considered to have started the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment.

"How can you put a perpetrator in charge of the country’s most important sexual-assault case?" Manning Barish asked.

Another accuser, Tanya Selvaratnam, said Schneiderman has "staked his entire career, his personal narrative, on being a champion for women publicly."

"His hypocrisy is epic," she said. "He’s fooled so many people."

Manning Barish described the first attack at Schneiderman’s hands in vivid detail.

"All of a sudden, he just slapped me, open-handed and with great force, across the face, landing the blow directly onto my ear," Manning Barish said.

"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."

She finally freed herself and got back on her feet. "I was crying and in shock," she says. She recalls shouting, "Are you crazy?" To her astonishment, Schneiderman accused her of scratching him. At one point—she can’t remember if it was at this moment or in a later conversation—he told her, "You know, hitting an officer of the law is a felony."

The New Yorker reports a wealth of corroborating evidence about the accusations, including medical records, photographs, and friends testimonies. For instance, novelist Salman Rushdie had dated Manning Barish and heard about Schneiderman’s abuse.

"She called me and told me he had hit her," Rushdie said. "She was obviously very upset. I was horrified."

Manning Barish also described psychological abuse based on her physical appearance:

She says that when they had sex he often slapped her across the face without her consent, and that she felt "emotionally battered" by cruel remarks that he made. She says that he criticized how she looked and dressed, and "controlled what I ate." Manning Barish, who is five feet seven, lost thirty pounds, falling to a hundred and three. In a photograph from the period, she looks emaciated; her hair, she recalls, started to fall out. Nevertheless, he squeezed her legs and called them "chubby."

In addition, she said he commandeered her prescription medication and degraded her in various ways, which his office denies:

Manning Barish says that Schneiderman also took prescription tranquillizers, and often asked her to refill a prescription that she had for Xanax, so that he could reserve "about half" the pills for himself. (Schneiderman’s spokesperson said that he has "never commandeered anyone’s medications.") Sometimes in bed, she recalls, he would be "shaking me and grabbing my face" while demanding that she repeat such things as "I’m a little whore." She says that he also told her, "If you ever left me, I’d kill you."

Another pattern of behavior in the allegations involved threatening the women's lives by using police power against them. He told them that he could tap their phones.

"The slaps started after we’d gotten to know each other," Selvaratnam said. "It was at first as if he were testing me. Then it got stronger and harder."

"It wasn’t consensual. This wasn’t sexual playacting. This was abusive, demeaning, threatening behavior," she added.

Another accuser who was interviewed by the New Yorker said political pressure was part of how Schneiderman got away with it.

"Now that I know it’s part of a pattern, I think, God, I should have reported it," the accuser said. "But, back then, I believed that it was a one-time incident. And I thought, He’s a good attorney general, he’s doing good things. I didn’t want to jeopardize that."

Selvaratnam got into contact with a former girlfriend of his who was also abused, and she confided that her friends encouraged her not to accuse Schneiderman because he was "too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose."

After the former girlfriend ended the relationship, she told several friends about the abuse. A number of them advised her to keep the story to herself, arguing that Schneiderman was too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose. She described this response as heartbreaking. And when Schneiderman heard that she had turned against him, she said, he warned her that politics was a tough and personal business, and that she’d better be careful. She told Selvaratnam that she had taken this as a threat.

Schneiderman’s ex-wife Jennifer Cunningham, whose firm SKDKnickerbocker touts its record of helping to "elect Democrats across the country," said she does not believe the allegations.

"I’ve known Eric for nearly thirty-five 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," Cunningham said.

Cameron Cawthorne contributed to this story.

Updated May 8 4:57 PM: This post has been updated to include Miller's statement on behalf of the National Institute for Reproductive Health.