Schneiderman Faces Criminal Probe in Swift Fall From Grace

(Bloomberg) -- He made his name as a liberal crusader -- as a Wall Street enforcer, a champion of women and, more recently, a thorn in the side of President Donald Trump.

But now the hard-charging career of Eric Schneiderman, one of the nation’s most prominent state attorneys general, has unraveled in startling fashion.

Schneiderman, 63, abruptly announced his resignation late Monday after The New Yorker reported that he had assaulted several women. By morning, he was under investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

In a blink, the news reverberated from Albany to Washington, where Kellyanne Conway, counselor to Trump, gleefully tweeted: "Gotcha."

Schneiderman has denied wrongdoing. But his stunning downfall, coming just months after Senator Al Franken resigned following allegations that he had groped several women, represents a blow to national Democrats as pivotal November mid-term elections draw near.

For now, New York’s solicitor general, Barbara Underwood, will serve as the state’s attorney general. It isn’t immediately clear whether the scandal will impact investigations Schneiderman’s office opened during his tenure, which also include one into Exxon’s accounting practices relating to climate change.

It’s a dramatic turn for Schneiderman, the latest in a long line of Albany officials, including former Governor Eliot Spitzer, the one-time sheriff of Wall Street, to be swept up in scandal. Recently Schneiderman 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 said “I strongly contest” the allegations, but said he’s stepping down because “they will effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time.” Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for his office, declined to comment on Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s investigation.

The New York City native, in office since 2011, had planned to run for re-election in November. Underwood, 73, is a former Yale Law School professor who once worked as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and served as acting U.S. solicitor general from 1998 to 2001. She’s argued 20 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. In New York, she worked in senior positions in state and federal prosecutors’ offices in Brooklyn and Queens.

“I am honored to serve the people of New York,” Underwood said in a statement, adding that the office’s “work continues without interruption.”

Schneiderman’s resignation comes amid a national reckoning spurred by the “Me Too” movement and reports of sexual abuse and harassment by powerful men. The allegations are especially dramatic because Schneiderman has spent years advocating 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 Nov. 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 didn’t 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.

Wall Street

Like others who have held the post in recent years, Schneiderman has 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 AG in March agreed to pay $230 million to resolve its part in the probe.

Schneiderman’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.

Spitzer stepped down as governor in 2008 after disclosures that he’d 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.

(An earlier version of the story corrected the time of his resignation announcement in the third paragraph.)

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