The #MeToo movement has ensnared a number of Democrats despite their seemingly impeccable records on women’s rights. But nothing quite compares to the freefall of former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Not only was Mr. Schneiderman a flag-flying feminist, but he had positioned himself at the forefront of the fight against sexual harassment, filing a lawsuit just three months ago against disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
“We have never seen anything as despicable as what we’ve seen here,” said Mr. Schneiderman at the Feb. 11 press conference.
That was then. On Tuesday, Mr. Schneiderman found himself facing multiple investigations into whether he physically abused four women, allegations he has contested but which led him to resign, his political career in tatters and his legal crusade against President Trump in limbo.
The Manhattan and Suffolk County district attorneys said they had opened probes into allegations made in the New Yorker magazine by four women — two by name, two anonymously — who said he slapped, choked and roughed them up, sometimes but not always during sexual encounters.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo late Tuesday appointed a special prosecutor to look into the allegations, including whether the attorney general’s office had been used “to facilitate alleged abusive liaisons.”
Mr. Schneiderman, who has described the episodes as consensual “role-playing,” was also accused of threatening the women if they exposed his behavior, allegedly telling one, “I am the law,” as well as driving drunk in the Hamptons in 2016, which he has denied.
The political fallout was immediate as Democrats struggled to regroup while Republicans cheered the departure of the hyper-partisan Mr. Schneiderman, who had positioned himself as the leader of the anti-Trump legal resistance.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway tweeted, “Gotcha,” while Donald Trump Jr. launched a series of tweets that included, “Hey, Eric, it’s not ‘role play’ if you’re the only one of you in on it.”
Both parties have watched their share of politicos felled in the last year by allegations of sexual misconduct, but while Republicans are seen as easy targets, Democrats have for years enjoyed a degree of immunity as a result of their feminist bona fides, dating back to Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.
The same dynamic appeared to be in play with Mr. Schneiderman. Two of the women told the New Yorker that his politics made them hesitant to come forward.
“I thought, ‘He’s a good attorney general, he’s doing good things. I didn’t want to jeopardize that,” said one woman.
A former girlfriend said that after 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,” said the article by Jane Mayer and Rowan Farrow.
Davida S. Perry, a New York City attorney specializing in sexual assault cases, said Mr. Schneiderman appeared to have leveraged his stature as a champion of women to protect himself from censure.
“It’s really shocking, but he was quite masterful in using that, assuming it’s true, as a shield behind which he perpetrated these predatory acts,” Ms. Perry said.
Mr. Schneiderman becomes the latest top New York Democrat brought down by personal scandal, following the resignations of Gov. Eliot Spitzer in 2008 over his hiring of prostitutes, and Rep. Anthony Wiener in 2011 for sending a lewd photo via text.
The 63-year-old prosecutor had been expected to coast to re-election in November and was viewed as the early gubernatorial favorite for 2022.
Several women’s groups expressed outrage and disappointment, while New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was “horrified” by the report and agreed that, “based on what I read,” Mr. Schneiderman should face criminal charges.
“It was just as disturbing as it could possibly be. Thank God he resigned quickly and didn’t put this state through a nightmare,” Mr. de Blasio said at a press conference.
Still uncertain is the fate of Mr. Schneiderman’s aggressive legal agenda — including his high-profile pursuit of the Trump administration and companies like ExxonMobil, Facebook and Spectrum — as the office begins what could be an extended round of musical chairs.
Replacing Mr. Schneiderman on Tuesday was the state’s solicitor general, Barbara Underwood, who said “our work continues without interruption,” but she will only serve as acting attorney general until the state Legislature chooses a permanent replacement.
That person must then run to keep the seat in the November election, a race that is expected to draw a fresh field of contenders with Mr. Schneiderman no longer in play.
“We may see a slowdown in the short term, but maintaining a firewall against Trump policies and sustained action against Trump allies may become a de facto litmus test for the new AG,” said former state Democratic Party Executive Director Basil Smikle.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who joined Mr. Schneiderman on the probe into whether ExxonMobil “knew” about climate change, said she would continue to work with New York prosecutors.
“I look forward to working with the next attorney general of New York to continue that work,” she said in a statement.
The Democrat Healey added that she was “deeply troubled” about the allegations and that “I support his decision to resign from office.”
Mr. Cuomo and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat, had urged Mr. Schneiderman to announce his resignation after the article appeared Monday. Three hours later, he did.
• This story was based in part on wire-service reports.
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