Trump-Schneiderman Feud Puts Sexual-Assault Claims in New Light
(Bloomberg) -- Just days after Eric Schneiderman resigned abruptly over allegations that he beat sexual partners, a colorful New York lawyer provided an aftershock.
Outlining other abuse allegations against Schneiderman, the lawyer cast clouds over the top prosecutor’s tenure, and particularly over his approach to a longtime adversary, Donald Trump.
The revelation came courtesy of Peter J. Gleason, a New York cop-turned-fireman-turned-lawyer with eyes on a state political office. About five years ago, Gleason says, he heard from two women that then-AG Schneiderman had “sexually victimized” them. Gleason didn’t take the allegations to law enforcement. Instead, according to a letter he wrote to a federal judge on Friday, he went to a journalist -- who called Trump.
The reasoning behind that decision is still murky. Gleason said he didn’t trust the Manhattan district attorney to take action. And Trump -- then talking about a bid for New York governor -- may have been able to help the women if elected, Gleason has said.
By stepping forward now with the suggestion that Trump has long held compromising information about Schneiderman, Gleason raises questions about whether Trump ever confronted New York’s top law enforcement officer with his insider tip and if so whether Schneiderman may have pulled punches.
Schneiderman oversaw an investigation into fraud at Trump University, which ended with a settlement shortly after Trump’s election in 2016, as well as more recent challenges against administration policies on immigration and climate change. Schneiderman’s office was also “cooperating” with the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, according to media reports.
“If these claims are true, that Trump possessed information about serious allegations against AG Schneiderman in 2013, serious questions need to be answered about whether Schneiderman was aware that Trump was in possession of that information, how and why Trump obtained that information, and how, if at all, it impacted decisions Schneiderman made about any pending cases,” said former Manhattan federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah.
Schneiderman’s lawyer, Isabelle Kirshner, declined to comment. A spokesman for the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. declined to comment.
Gleason himself is no stranger to notoriety. Around 2012, several years into his law career, he represented a woman accused of running a prostitution ring -- tabloids called her the Soccer-Mom Madam -- before getting booted from the case after he offered to secure her bail by putting her up in his Tribeca loft.
The former cop’s latest revelation gives him a foothold in three areas of broadening interest to prosecutors -- Trump’s preparation for the presidency, allegations of sexual assault by powerful men and the investigation into the business practices of Trump’s longtime fixer, Michael Cohen. The story outline Gleason provided raises the prospect of untold details about New York’s power structures, some of which may be found in the documents, files and devices that the FBI seized from Cohen last month.
Gleason said his only purpose with Friday’s filing was to keep the names of the two women out of the hands of Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who has turned into a highly visible critic of Cohen and Trump in the past few months. Avenatti also has provided summaries of payments a Cohen shell company received from the likes of AT&T Inc. and Novartis AG and a Russian oligarch-connected U.S. fund. Gleason described Avenatti’s sharing of sensitive information as "reckless."
"Providing facts, evidence and the truth to the American people is never reckless," Avenatti said in a phone call. He declined to say whether he has the information referenced in Gleason’s letter.
Gleason’s letter was directed at U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood in Manhattan, who’s overseeing which of the Cohen documents can be given to prosecutors and which are shielded by attorney-client privilege. Later Friday, the judge said Gleason must submit a formal memo in support of his letter or pull it.
A string of revelations this week suggests that business dealings may be documented in Cohen’s records, including payments that AT&T, Novartis and others made to a shell company Cohen set up in Delaware.
Cohen’s files may also include the names of the two victims, Gleason wrote to Wood. That and other information, he argued, should be guarded under court seal to protect the victims’ privacy.
But sealing those references could also keep any conversation between Gleason and Cohen out of the public eye. That may include details about the women and their allegations against Schneiderman, or provide clues to how much Trump may have learned from Cohen -- and it could suggest whether he may have sought to use the information as leverage against Schneiderman, who was suing Trump University.
In his letter, Gleason disclosed that he shared the allegations involving Schneiderman with Steve Dunleavy, a retired New York Post columnist, who offered to share them with Trump. These conversations occurred in 2013, just after Schneiderman had filed his suit.
Gleason, in a telephone interview, said Cohen called him the next day looking for more details.
Shortly after Dunleavy alerted Trump to the Schneiderman allegations, Trump tweeted out a warning, comparing the AG to Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, two New York politicians felled by sex scandals.
"Weiner is gone, Spitzer is gone -- next will be lightweight A.G. Eric Schneiderman. Is he a crook? Wait and see, worse than Spitzer or Weiner," Trump tweeted in September 2013.
One thing that Cohen’s files may help explain is whether Gleason was acting in the women’s best interests in disclosing information about them to Dunleavy.
It’s possible the women gave Gleason permission to talk, “although to get it he would have had to explain the risks that Dunleavy would tell others,” according to New York University law professor Stephen Gillers. “What isn’t apparent is why talking to Dunleavy, or indeed to Trump through Dunleavy, would benefit the clients. What could he imagine Trump would do for his clients?”
Gleason, in the interview, said his call with Cohen didn’t violate the confidentiality he owed his clients because it was a lawyer-to-lawyer conversation that protected, by extension, his attorney-client privilege with the women.
Well before the 2016 presidential election and long before the abuse claims came to light, Trump and Schneiderman clashed publicly.
In late 2013, Trump filed a complaint about Schneiderman with the New York state ethics commission, claiming the attorney general repeatedly solicited him for campaign contributions while investigating Trump University.
“Mr. Schneiderman makes no attempt to hide his penchant for political shakedowns,” Trump said in an affidavit, which said he gave $12,500 and introduced him to other donors.
Cohen also filed an affidavit saying Schneiderman pressed him for political donations, including at an April 2013 fundraiser at a Brooklyn Nets basketball game. Cohen, who gave $1,000, said Schneiderman “repeatedly assured me” that the investigation “was going nowhere” and no lawsuit would be filed.
In his best known case, Gleason represented Anna Gristina, a madam who made millions of dollars running an exclusive brothel in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. While serving as her lawyer in 2012, Gleason asked the court to allow her to leave the Riker’s Island jail complex and stay in his $2.5 million Manhattan apartment.
"The apartment offer was a crazy stunt," said Norm Pattis, an attorney on the case. "Pete is hungry for the limelight. He makes Mike Avenatti and Stormy Daniels look modest, and that’s hard to do."
Pattis said he threatened to quit if Gleason wasn’t removed from the case, because he was disruptive and contributed little to the litigation. Gleason was later removed from the case.
Gleason began practicing law in 2004, two years before retiring from the New York Fire Department, and two decades after a stint with the New York Police Department.
Three times in the past decade, Gleason has mounted unsuccessful runs for political office, first for the City Council in 2009, then to replace Vance as Manhattan’s district attorney in 2013 and 2017.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.