Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, has long been a liberal Democratic champion of women’s rights, and recently he has become an outspoken figure in the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment. As New York State’s highest-ranking law-enforcement officer, Schneiderman, who is sixty-three, has used his authority to take legal action against the disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein, and to demand greater compensation for the victims of Weinstein’s alleged sexual crimes. Last month, when the Times and this magazine were awarded a joint Pulitzer Prize for coverage of sexual harassment, Schneiderman issued a congratulatory tweet, praising “the brave women and men who spoke up about the sexual harassment they had endured at the hands of powerful men.” Without these women, he noted, “there would not be the critical national reckoning under way.”
Now Schneiderman is facing a reckoning of his own. As his prominence as a voice against sexual misconduct has risen, so, too, has the distress of four women with whom he has had romantic relationships or encounters. They accuse Schneiderman of having subjected them to nonconsensual physical violence.
All have been reluctant to speak out, fearing reprisal. But two of the women, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, have talked to The New Yorker on the record, because they feel that doing so could protect other women. They allege that he repeatedly hit them, often after drinking, frequently in bed and never with their consent. Manning Barish and Selvaratnam categorize the abuse he inflicted on them as “assault.” They did not report their allegations to the police at the time, but both say that they eventually sought medical attention after having been slapped hard across the ear and face, and also choked. Selvaratnam says that Schneiderman warned her he could have her followed and her phones tapped, and both say that he threatened to kill them if they broke up with him. (Schneiderman’s spokesperson said that he “never made any of these threats.”)
A third former romantic partner of Schneiderman’s told Manning Barish and Selvaratnam that he also repeatedly subjected her to nonconsensual physical violence, but she told them that she is too frightened of him to come forward. (The New Yorker has independently vetted the accounts that they gave of her allegations.) A fourth woman, an attorney who has held prominent positions in the New York legal community, says that Schneiderman made an advance toward her; when she rebuffed him, he slapped her across the face with such force that it left a mark that lingered the next day. She recalls screaming in surprise and pain, and beginning to cry, and says that she felt frightened. She has asked to remain unidentified, but shared a photograph of the injury with The New Yorker.
In a statement, Schneiderman said, “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 nonconsensual sex, which is a line I would not cross.”
Manning Barish was romantically involved with Schneiderman from the summer of 2013 until New Year’s Day in 2015. Selvaratnam was with him from the summer of 2016 until the fall of 2017. Both are articulate, progressive Democratic feminists in their forties who live in Manhattan. They work and socialize in different circles, and although they have become aware of each other’s stories, they have only a few overlapping acquaintances; to this day, they have never spoken to each other. Over the past year, both watched with admiration as other women spoke out about sexual misconduct. But, as Schneiderman used the authority of his office to assume a major role in the #MeToo movement, their anguish and anger grew.
In February, four months after the first stories about Weinstein broke, Schneiderman announced that his office was filing a civil-rights suit against him. At a press conference, he denounced Weinstein, saying, “We have never seen anything as despicable as what we’ve seen right here.” On May 2nd, at the direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo, Schneiderman launched an investigation into the past handling of criminal complaints against Weinstein by the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, Jr., and the New York City Police Department. (In 2015, Vance declined to bring criminal charges against Weinstein, saying that he lacked sufficient evidence—a decision criticized by activist groups.) In a speech, Cuomo explained that “sexual-assault complaints must be pursued aggressively, and to the fullest extent of the law.” The expanding investigation of the Weinstein case puts Schneiderman at the center of one of the most significant sexual-misconduct cases in recent history.
Schneiderman’s activism on behalf of feminist causes has increasingly won him praise from women’s groups. On May 1st, the New York-based National Institute for Reproductive Health honored him as one of three “Champions of Choice” at its annual fund-raising luncheon. Accepting the award, Schneiderman said, “If a woman cannot control her body, she is not truly equal.” But, as Manning Barish sees it, “you cannot be a champion of women when you are hitting them and choking them in bed, and saying to them, ‘You’re a fucking whore.’ ” She says of Schneiderman’s involvement in the Weinstein investigation, “How can you put a perpetrator in charge of the country’s most important sexual-assault case?” Selvaratnam describes Schneiderman as “a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” figure, and says that seeing him lauded as a supporter of women has made her “feel sick,” adding, “This is a man who has staked his entire career, his personal narrative, on being a champion for women publicly. But he abuses them privately. He needs to be called out.”
Manning Barish notes that many of her friends attended the N.I.R.H. luncheon. “His hypocrisy is epic,” she says. “He’s fooled so many people.” Manning Barish includes herself among them. She says that she met Schneiderman in July, 2013, through mutual friends. She had become a blogger and political activist after opposing her younger brother’s deployment to Iraq and working with groups such as MoveOn.org. Amicably divorced from Chris Barish, a hospitality-industry executive, she was a single mother with a young daughter and socially prominent friends. Schneiderman, who was rising in Democratic politics after being elected attorney general, in 2010, was also divorced. His ex-wife, Jennifer Cunningham, a lobbyist and political strategist at the firm SKDKnickerbocker, currently serves as one of his political consultants. They have a grown daughter.
Manning Barish says that she fell quickly for Schneiderman and was happy to be involved with someone who seemed to share her progressive idealism and enjoy her feistiness. Page Six chronicled the romance, calling her a “ravishing redhead” and noting that, at a fund-raiser, the television producer Norman Lear had introduced her as Schneiderman’s “bride-to-be.”
But Manning Barish began to see signs of controlling and abusive behavior. Soon after she started dating Schneiderman, he told her to remove a small tattoo from her wrist; it wasn’t appropriate, he said, if she were to become the wife of a politician. The process of having it removed was painful and expensive. In retrospect, she says, it was the first step in trying to control her body. “Taking a strong woman and tearing her to pieces is his jam,” she says.
About four weeks after they became physically involved, she says, Schneiderman grew violent. One night, they were in the bedroom of his Upper West Side apartment, still clothed but getting ready for bed, and lightly baiting each other. As she recalls it, he called her “a whore,” and she talked back. They had both been drinking, and her recollection of their conversation is blurry, but what happened next remains vivid. Schneiderman, she says, backed her up to the edge of his bed. “All of a sudden, he just slapped me, open-handed and with great force, across the face, landing the blow directly onto my ear,” Manning Barish says. “It was horrendous. It just came out of nowhere. My ear was ringing. I lost my balance and fell backward onto the bed. I sprang up, but at this point there was very little room between the bed and him. I got up to try to shove him back, or take a swing, and he pushed me back down. He then used his body weight to hold me down, and he began to choke me. The choking was very hard. It was really bad. I kicked. In every fibre, I felt I was being beaten by a man.”
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Statement from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo:
The New Yorker has published an article on Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, which reports multiple women making serious allegations of assault. No one is above the law, including New York's top legal officer. I will be asking an appropriate New York District Attorney to commence an immediate investigation, and proceed as the facts merit. My personal opinion is that, 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 as Attorney General, and for the good of the office, he should resign.
They got him.
Score one for Team Trump.
Eric Schneiderman has resigned.
Schneiderman's resignation statement:
In the last several hours, serious allegations, which I strongly contest, have been made against me. 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. I therefore resign my office, effective at the close of business on May 8, 2018.