MANHATTAN (CN) – Leaving office today on the heels of physical-abuse allegations, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is now under criminal investigation.
"Our office has opened an investigation into the recently reported allegations concerning Mr. Schneiderman," Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s spokesman Danny Frost confirmed on Tuesday.
Women’s groups have been less than overjoyed by the announcement. Vance recently made headlines for declining to prosecute Harvey Weinstein after receiving donations from defense attorneys for the disgraced Hollywood producer.
“Manhattan DA Cy Vance, who is under investigation by [New York Attorney General’s] office for not prosecuting Weinstein abuse, can’t investigate Schneiderman abuse,” Sonia Ossorio, the president of the National Organization of Women’s New York City chapter, tweeted this morning.
“It’s a conflict of interest,” she added. “A special prosecutor is needed.”
Two more probes of Schneiderman were announced later in the day: one by the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, and one by Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, whom Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed as special prosecutor.
The spectacular fall of Schneiderman from the nation’s most prominent state attorney general to a criminal suspect occurred mere hours after allegations against Schneiderman appeared Monday night in The New Yorker.
Written by iconic reporters Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, the bombshell piece detailed Schneiderman's relationships with four women, two of whom were quoted on the record. Literary luminary Salman Rushdie served as a character witness for one of the accusers, who also provided medical records and other physical evidence to back up her claims.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and several state legislators quickly called for Schneiderman’s resignation, and the attorney general announced his resignation Monday night, less than four hours of the story’s publication.
“In the last several hours, serious allegations, which I strongly contest, have been made against me,” Schneiderman said in a statement last night.
“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,” he continued. “I therefore resign my office, effective at the close of business on May 8, 2018.”
This morning, Schneiderman’s spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick tweeted that his deputy Barbara Underwood would take his place in the interim.
“She’s argued 20 cases before SCOTUS, clerked for Thurgood Marshall, & much more,” Spitalnick wrote. “The work continues.”
Underwood’s ascension won plaudits from the New York City Law Department’s top attorney Zachary Carter.
“Barbara Underwood is a brilliant lawyer who has devoted her professional life to serving the criminal justice system,” Carter said in a statement. “Her north star has always been doing the right thing under all circumstances. I cannot think of a more appropriate steward for the position of N.Y. attorney general.”
How long Underwood will remain in this posting, however, is up to the New York Legislature.
Until the four-year term to which Schneiderman was last elected expires in November, the Legislature could choose another candidate to serve as acting attorney general.
Speculation is already brewing about possible contenders. One name receiving buzz on social media, ex-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, would face a steep climb onto the Legislature’s short list, given his record of toppling their leaders in an anti-corruption crackdown.
Democratic Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, a former prosecutor, has confirmed she will “definitely” throw her hat in the ring, a source close to her told Politico.
The political magazine also floated the names of fellow Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, ex-New York City Council Member Dan Garodnick, and Department of Financial Services superintendent Mario Vullo as her possible rivals.
Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor who challenged Cuomo in 2014, also announced on Twitter that she is "seriously considering" running.
"It is a major decision & will take real thought," tweeted Teachout, who is currently assisting the campaign of Cuomo's current challenger Cynthia Nixon. "For today, I'm grateful for the women who dared speak up against one of the most powerful men in the US & for Barbara Underwood, the brilliant woman who will be acting NY AG."
Whoever assumes the job, that person's work will stretch far beyond the boundaries of the Empire State. Schneiderman had been the point person on several lawsuits opposing President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda, including fights against the travel ban, defending the Clean Air Act, and protecting state health subsidies under the federal health care law.
One point that The New Yorker had underscored was the anxiety Schneiderman’s accusers experienced before coming forward, as the attorney general aggressively prosecuted the Weinstein Company for what he cast as institutional impunity toward the disgraced producer’s career-long sexual predation.
“We have never seen anything as despicable as what we’ve seen here,” Schneiderman said in February.
During his tenure as AG, Schneiderman was appointed by Cuomo as special prosecutor to sort out allegations of police brutality — an arrangement meant to avoid conflicts of interest between police and the local jurisdictions with which the officers work.
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