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NY Special Prosecutor to Investigate Attorney General Physical Abuse Allegations as Fallout Continues

The women accusing Eric Schneiderman said seeing him speak out on sexual misconduct issues was part of the impetus in them coming forward

What to Know

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday he's appointed a special prosecutor to look into allegations that Eric Schneiderman abused four women
  • The women had given detailed accounts of their abusive relationships to The New Yorker; two went on record
  • The bombshell article prompted the resignation of Schneiderman as attorney general just hours later

Gov. Cuomo announced Tuesday that he's appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the allegations of physical abuse four women made against Eric Schneiderman, accusations that prompted a resignation from the state attorney general within hours of publication in an expose by The New Yorker.

Cuomo says Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas will look into and possible prosecute "any and all matters concerning the public allegations" against Schneiderman. She'll also probe whether Schneiderman used his staff or office resources to facilitate the alleged abusive liaisons. 

The investigation is to "displace and supersede" the one that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance had announced early Tuesday morning -- a move that's rankled Vance.

In a letter to the governor Tuesday evening, Vance disputed Cuomo's characterization of the district attorney investigation as a potential conflict of interest given, among other things, a 2015 investigation of Harvey Weinstein by the DA and the NYPD. Read Vance's letter to Cuomo here.  

"The new allegations about Schneiderman have nothing to do with my office's investigation of Mr. Weinstein: they involve entirely separate claims of assault, involving entirely separate parties, and the alleged acts are plainly within the jurisdiction of my office. Put simply, no prosecutors are better equipped to investigate and pursue such cases in Manhattan than those in my office," Vance wrote. 

"Most importantly, charging and jurisdictional decision making should be left to independent prosecutors who are answerable to their local constituents," he said.

Earlier, NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said at an afternoon briefing that his chief of detectives had spoken to Vance and is prepared to open a police investigation, though the department said Monday it had never received a complaint against Schneiderman from the accusers whose names were released in The New Yorker article.

Schneiderman, who had been running for re-election and had taken on high-profile roles as a women's issues advocate, said in a statement late Monday he contested the women's accounts, but "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."

His resignation was effective at close of business on Tuesday. Barbara Underwood will step in as acting attorney general. She has been the state's Solitictor General since 2007. 

Two women had spoken to The New Yorker on the record, saying Schneiderman repeatedly hit them during the course of their relationships with him in recent years, and never with their consent. Neither woman filed any police complaints, but both said they sought medical attention and confided in people.

A third woman who also was involved with Schneiderman told her story to the other two women, but said she was too frightened to come forward. A fourth woman said Schneiderman slapped her when she rebuffed him, but also asked to remain unidentified. The New Yorker said it vetted the third woman's allegations, and saw a photo of what the fourth woman said was her injury.

The two women who spoke on the record, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, both said the physical abuse escalated over time, including choking and hitting, and that Schneiderman also was a heavy drinker. 

On Twitter, after the story was published, Manning Barish said, "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..."

Manning Barish said she was involved with Schneiderman from mid-2013 through the end of 2014; Selvaratnam said she was involved with him from the summer of 2016 until fall 2017.

Manning Barish said Schneiderman started getting violent a few weeks after they began dating, slapping her one night after an evening out and escalating to choking her. 

Schneiderman, a Democrat, had issued a statement to The New Yorker saying, "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."

His representatives reissued that statement late Monday. They also sent NBC a statement from Schneiderman's ex-wife, Jennifer Cunningham, who said, "I've known Eric for nearly 35 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."

Cuomo, though, almost immediately called for a resignation after the article was published. At an unrelated event Tuesday, Cuomo said The New Yorker article was "graphic and definitive," adding there should be a "deliberative process" to determining Schneiderman's replacement. 

Schneiderman has been a vocal supporter of the #MeToo movement. He filed a lawsuit in February against movie producer Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Co. following an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, saying 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 fired Weinstein.

The women accusing him said seeing him speak out on sexual misconduct issues was part of the impetus in them coming forward.

Schneiderman, who won a state Senate seat representing a Manhattan district in 1998, became attorney general in 2010 and had been running for re-election this year. He has a history of recognition for activism on behalf of women's causes, including reproductive rights.

A Republican opponent, Manny Alicandro, had just officially launched his candidacy on Monday. After The New Yorker report, Alicandro said, "If true, he is a disgrace and wholly unfit for the role of New York State's chief legal officer. I believe the accusers."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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