New York attorney-general Eric Schneiderman speaks during a news conference to discuss the civil rights lawsuit filed against The Weinstein Company and Harvey Weinstein, in New York on February 12 2018. Picture: REUTERS
New York attorney-general Eric Schneiderman speaks during a news conference to discuss the civil rights lawsuit filed against The Weinstein Company and Harvey Weinstein, in New York on February 12 2018. Picture: REUTERS

New York/San Francisco — New York attorney-general Eric Schneiderman said he is resigning as the state’s highest law enforcement official, hours after a report in which four women accused him of physical violence.

Schneiderman, who built his reputation as a courtroom foe of President Donald Trump, a tough enforcer of Wall Street and a self-styled advocate for women, announced his decision late on Monday in response to a New Yorker article that outlined claims of abuse, including violent slapping and choking.

"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."

Schneiderman’s stunning and swift collapse, coming just hours after the New Yorker published its story, is a blow to the national Democratic party following the December resignation of Minnesota senator Al Franken amid allegations of groping. Schneiderman had earned national recognition for playing a central role in resisting the Trump’s administration policies. His legal filings on behalf of New York against the travel ban, rescission of protections for children of undocumented immigrants, anti-LGBT measures and women’s access to contraception were accompanied by scathing remarks against Trump’s agenda.

Schneiderman’s resignation will be effective at the close of business on Tuesday. The New York City native, in office since 2011, had planned to run for re-election in November. Under state law, the New York legislature has the authority to appoint Schneiderman’s successor.

Solicitor-general

New York solicitor-general Barbara Underwood, a former Yale Law School professor who once worked as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, would temporarily succeed Schneiderman, spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said. Underwood, who is next in the line of succession, served as acting US solicitor-general from 1998 to 2001 and has argued 20 cases before the US Supreme Court. In New York, she worked in senior positions in state and federal prosecutors’ offices in Brooklyn and Queens.

For at least the short term, it will be Underwood’s decision on whether to press ahead with Schneiderman’s agenda.

Schneiderman’s resignation comes amid a national reckoning spurred by the "Me Too" movement and reports of sexual abuse and harassment by powerful men. In public Schneiderman has vocally defended the rights of women, only to see critics, including Donald Trump Jr and senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway, hurl his words back at him on Twitter on Monday night.

"Gotcha," Conway tweeted Monday, after posting Schneiderman’s October 2017 tweet to Trump that "No one is above the law."

Women’s rights

The allegations against Schneiderman are especially dramatic because they follow years of legislative and legal advocacy for women’s rights, including protecting women from physical and sexual abuse. Among the laws he helped pass during his 12 years in the New York state senate was a penalty for strangulation.

"If a woman can’t control her own body, she isn’t truly free," Schneiderman said on November 2 2017, while joining a lawsuit to protect women’s access to birth control. "With men in Washington doing whatever they can to undermine women’s freedom and equality, I’ll do everything in my power to fight back and protect New Yorkers."

Two of the women who accused Schneiderman, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, spoke on the record to the New Yorker. They did not report their allegations to the police at the time, yet both eventually sought medical attention after having been slapped hard and choked, according to the magazine.

After the article was posted online, governor Andrew Cuomo called for Schneiderman to step down. Cuomo added that he would ask an appropriate district attorney to immediately open an investigation into the claims "and proceed as the facts merit".

Denies claim

Shortly before his resignation, Schneiderman denied assaulting anyone.

"In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity," he said in a statement in response to the article. "I have not assaulted anyone. I have never engaged in non-consensual sex, which is a line I would not cross."

Like others who have held the post in recent years, Schneiderman has a been a regular foe of Wall Street, helping secure billions of dollars in settlements from investment banks over issues stemming from trading in their dark pools to deceptive practices in the sale of residential mortgage-backed securities. UBS Group in March agreed to pay $230m to resolve its part in the investigation.

Scheiderman’s departure marked the fourth time in New York that a statewide elected official has either resigned in disgrace or been forced out of campaigning for election.

Eliot Spitzer, the former governor, stepped down in 2008 after disclosures that he had consorted with high-priced prostitutes. His successor, David Paterson, the lieutenant governor, chose not to run for election in 2010 after he was caught accepting free World Series tickets and having intervened on behalf of a political aide accused of domestic abuse. Alan Hevesi, a state comptroller, had to step down in 2006 after pleading guilty to corruption involving his stewardship of state pension funds.

Bloomberg

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