The New Yorker published a bombshell account Monday night, detailing allegations by former partners of New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse by the high-profile Democrat, who has been an outspoken advocate for women’s causes. (Within hours of the story going live, Schneiderman had resigned from his post.*) Two of the women went on the record about their relationships with the 63-year-old who has become a darling of the left in the era of Trump and more broadly for his aggressive pursuit of Harvey Weinstein in the early days of the #MeToo movement.
The allegations laid out by the high-profile professional women in the piece are deeply disturbing and eerily similar. The accounts paint New York state’s top law-enforcement officer, who is divorced with a grown child, as a controlling and manipulative partner, one who drank heavily and would often hit his partners in the face during and around sex and, on occasion, other times as well. The two primary accounts are that of Michelle Manning Barish, who was romantically involved with Schneiderman beginning in the summer of 2013 until the end of 2014, and Tanya Selvaratnam, who dated the attorney general from summer 2016 to the fall of 2017. Both women said they did not report Schneiderman to the police at the time because of fear of reprisal; they did, however, capture the abusive nature of their relationships with the Democratic star in conversations with friends and confidants at the time, as well as in other correspondence and records. Each said Schneiderman threatened to kill them if they broke up with him.
A spokesperson for Schneiderman denied the threats and disputed other portions of the women’s account. In a statement released to the New Yorker Monday, 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, whose account provided the most detail of life with Schneiderman, said the early warning signs of abuse cropped up early in their dating, notably when Schneiderman demanded she have small tattoo on her wrist removed in what was a painful procedure in order to look more appropriate as a potential political spouse. That was just the beginning however; the abuse escalated. “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 told the New Yorker of one early episode. “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.” Months later, with her ear still in pain, and on one occasion bleeding, Manning Barish went to a doctor.
Selvaratnam is an author, actor, and producer, and like Manning Barish an activist that hung around in progressive circles. “The slaps started after we’d gotten to know each other,” she recalled. “It was at first as if he were testing me. Then it got stronger and harder.” Selvaratnam told the New Yorker: “It wasn’t consensual. This wasn’t sexual playacting. This was abusive, demeaning, threatening behavior.”
The abuse escalated. Schneiderman not only slapped her across the face, often four or five times, back and forth, with his open hand; he also spat at her and choked her. “He was cutting off my ability to breathe,” she says. Eventually, she says, “we could rarely have sex without him beating me.” In her view, Schneiderman “is a misogynist and a sexual sadist.” She says that she often asked him to stop hurting her, and tried to push him away. At other times, she gave in, rationalizing that she could tolerate the violence if it happened only once a week or so during sex. But “the emotional and verbal abuse started increasing,” she says, and “the belittling and demeaning of me carried over into our nonsexual encounters.” He told her to get plastic surgery to remove scars on her torso that had resulted from an operation to remove cancerous tumors. He criticized her hair and said that she should get breast implants and buy different clothes. He mocked some of her friends as “ditzes,” and, when these women attended a birthday celebration for her, he demanded that she leave just as the cake was arriving. “I began to feel like I was in Hell,” she says.
Both women ultimately left Schneiderman, but did not report his behavior. One other lawyer described Schneiderman hitting her during an initial sexual encounter in the Hamptons in the summer of 2016. She, too, decided not to report the rising star, in part, because he was an important political advocate on the left. “Back then, I believed that it was a one-time incident. And I thought, He’s a good attorney general, he’s doing good things. I didn’t want to jeopardize that,” she told the New Yorker. “I knew it was wrong… Our top law officer, this guy with a platform for women’s rights, just smacked away so much of what I thought he stood for.”
As Schneiderman’s stature grew for his prosecution of sexual assault and advocacy for women’s rights, his former partners grew increasingly uncomfortable and decided to come forward. “How can you put a perpetrator in charge of the country’s most important sexual-assault case?” said Selvaratnam, who referred to Schneiderman as “a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” figure. “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.” “His hypocrisy is epic,” Manning Barish said. “He’s fooled so many people.”
“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,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Monday. “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.”
“It’s been my great honor and privilege to serve as attorney general for the people of the State of New York,” Schneiderman said in a statement late Monday. “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.”*
Update, May 7, 2018: This post was updated with information about Schneiderman’s resignation from office.