New York attorney general resigns over assault allegations

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 30: New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks at a press conference announcing new guidelines and testing standards that GNC will adhere to for their herbal supplements and extracts on March 30, 2015 in New York City. After testing hermal supplements and extracts from various retailers last year and finding false ingredients in their products, the attorney general's office subpoenaed GNC and other providers to further investigate their products. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has long been outspoken in his defence of women’s rights, resigned Monday after denying allegations he had physically abused four women.

“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,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

Four women with whom he was romantically involved had accused the 63-year-old of non-consensual physical violence, the New Yorker magazine reported earlier Monday, leading New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to call for the lawyer’s resignation.

Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, the two women who went on record with the magazine, said they sought medical treatment after Schneiderman choked them and slapped them hard across the ear and face.

They did not report the alleged abuse to the police, with Schneiderman reportedly threatening to kill them if they broke up with him.

He denied the allegations in a statement to dpa.

“In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity. I have not assaulted anyone. I have never engaged in non-consensual sex, which is I line I would not cross,” Schneiderman said.

The attorney general made headlines in February after filing a lawsuit against disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual harassment and assault and by dozens of women, which he denies.

“They knew what was happening, they know how pervasive it was. And yet they did nothing,” Schneiderman told reporters in Manhattan at the time.

“We have never seen anything as despicable as what we’ve seen right here,” he added.

Under instruction from Governor Cuomo, Schneiderman in March began investigating Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr for his involvement in a 2015 decision not to prosecute Weinstein.

“It is of great concern that sexual assault cases have not been pursued with full vigour by our criminal justice system,” Cuomo said in a statement at the time.

The district attorney’s office reportedly told NBC late Monday that it had begun investigating Schneiderman over the allegations in the New Yorker.

Schneiderman’s ex-wife Jennifer Cunningham said she “found it impossible” to believe the accusations.

“I’ve known Eric for nearly 35 years as a husband, father and friend. These allegations are completely inconsistent with the man I know, who has always been someone of the highest character, outstanding values and a loving father,” she said in a statement.

Manning Barish’s former boyfriend, novelist Salman Rushdie, told the New Yorker that Schneiderman’s behaviour crossed a line.

“She called me and told me he had hit her,” Rushdie was quoted as saying.

Schneiderman served in the New York Senate from 1998 to 2010, before becoming the state’s 65th attorney general in 2011. He was re-elected in 2014 and rose to recent prominence as a champion of feminist causes.

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