By Jennie Matthew
New York (AFP) – New York state’s top prosecutor, a public defender of the #MeToo movement and antagonist of Donald Trump, has become the latest public figure to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct.
Eric Schneiderman, a 63-year-old progressive Democrat serving a second elected term as state attorney general, resigned late Monday hours after being accused of physically assaulting four women.
It was a swift fall from power for the chief law enforcement official in the state, an outspoken Trump opponent whose office had launched multiple legal challenges against the Republican administration.
“Gotcha,” tweeted White House counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, although there was no immediate response from Trump.
“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 said.
“I therefore resign my office, effective at the close of business on May 8.”
Two of the women spoke to The New Yorker on the record, alleging that Schneiderman repeatedly hit them, often after drinking, frequently in bed and never with their consent.
Both say they sought medical attention after having been slapped hard across the ear and face, and also choked, the magazine said.
– ‘Brown slave’ –
The article was co-written by Ronan Farrow, who last month shared the Pulitzer Prize for public service with The New York Times for reporting on the Harvey Weinstein scandal and sexual harassment.
The New Yorker said none of the women classified the behavior as consensual.
“It wasn’t consensual. This wasn’t sexual playacting. This was abusive, demeaning, threatening behavior,” Tanya Selvaratnam, a Harvard-educated author, actor and film producer told the magazine.
The Sri Lankan-born woman said Schneiderman, whom she dated in 2016-17, called her “his ‘brown slave,'” spat at her and choked her.
“He was cutting off my ability to breathe,” she said, accusing Schneiderman of drinking heavily, taking sedatives and pressing her to drink too, saying “drink your bourbon, Turnip.”
“We could rarely have sex without him beating me,” she said.
Schneiderman, who had positioned himself publicly as a defender of women’s rights, had inserted himself into the downfall of disgraced movie mogul Weinstein, launching legal action against his former production company in February for failing to protect staff.
New York’s state Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is facing a left-flank challenge for a third term from progressive “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon, was among those who demanded Schneiderman go.
– ‘Damning pattern’ –
“No one is above the law,” he said late Monday. “Given the damning pattern of facts and corroboration laid out in the article, I do not believe it is possible for Eric Schneiderman to continue to serve.”
On Tuesday, the Manhattan district attorney’s office confirmed it had opened an investigation — as ordered by Cuomo overnight — into the allegations against Schneiderman.
Ironically, until Monday Schneiderman was the one investigating the Manhattan district attorney, also at the behest of Cuomo, for failing to prosecute Weinstein for sexual misconduct in 2015.
A spokesman confirmed that the New York police department had no complaints on file against the former attorney general.
Schneiderman initially denied assaulting anyone or ever engaging in non-consensual sex, and his office also released a statement from his ex-wife attesting to his “outstanding values.”
“In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity,” he said.
But hours later he was the latest powerful man to fall in the wake of the avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations from women that have poured forth since the Weinstein scandal broke late last year and effectively ended the Hollywood movie producer’s career.
Schneiderman “has made a career railing against this type of abuse. Yet apparently he intends to revictimize these courageous women who have come forward by pulling out that age-old sexist trope that they wanted it,” said Debra Katz, a lawyer for another of the women.