Special prosecutor appointed to investigate abuse allegations against Eric Schneiderman

NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate allegations of abuse by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Cuomo said Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas will investigate and possibly prosecute "any and all matters concerning the public allegations" against Schneiderman.

Cuomo says Singas also will probe whether Schneiderman used his staff or office resources to facilitate the alleged abusive liaisons.

Four women accused the Democrat of physical violence in a New Yorker article. Schneiderman, who has resigned, implied his conduct was either welcomed by the women, or was not as they described.

"We will vigorously investigate the allegations for which jurisdiction has been granted," said Singas.

Cuomo said the special prosecutor will work with the other district attorneys, including the district attorney in Suffolk County, where one of the women detailed alleged abuse by Schneiderman after a party in the Hamptons.

Singas is the former head of the Special Victims Bureau at the Nassau district attorney's office.

The special prosecutor, the governor says, will displace the Manhattan District Attorney as there appears to be a conflict of interest with the AG's office, which is investigating how the DA and NYPD handled the case of alleged illegal acts by producer Harvey Weinstein.

But Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. strongly objected to the move. In a letter to the governor he said in part, "No prosecutors are better equipped to investigate and pursue such cases in Manhattan than those in my office."

In a swift and stunning fall from grace, Schneiderman served his final day in office Tuesday following the accusations of domestic violence.

The Democrat, who billed himself as a champion of women and a liberal foil to President Donald Trump and who pledged to use his office to hold others accountable for abusing their power, stepped down just three hours after the article was published by The New Yorker.

Here is Schneiderman's full statement:
"It's been my great honor and privilege to serve as Attorney General for the people of the State of New York. 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."

Vance opened an investigation into the allegations after the women described being slapped and choked, verbally abused and threatened by Schneiderman. The abuse allegedly happened during what were supposed to be romantic encounters, but the women said the violence was not consensual.

Schneiderman, 63, implied in an initial statement that his conduct was either welcomed by the women or was not as they described.

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

His representatives also sent a statement from his ex-wife, Jennifer Cunningham, who said, "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. I find it impossible to believe these allegations are true."

Two women had spoken to The New Yorker on the record, saying Schneiderman repeatedly hit them during the course of their relationships with him in recent years. Neither woman filed any police complaints, but both said they sought out medical attention and confided in people close to them about the abuse.

A third woman who also was involved with him told her story to the other two women, but said she was too frightened to come forward. A fourth woman said Schneiderman slapped her when she rebuffed him, but also asked to remain unidentified. The New Yorker said it vetted the third woman's allegations, and saw a photo of what the fourth woman said was her injury.

The two women who spoke on the record, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, both said the physical abuse escalated over time, including choking and hitting, and that Schneiderman also was a heavy drinker. The Associated Press is identifying the women because they agreed to tell their stories publicly.

On Twitter, after the story was published, Manning Barish said, "After the most difficult month of my life-I spoke up. For my daughter and for all women. I could not remain silent and encourage other women to be brave for me. I could not..."

Manning Barish said she was involved with Schneiderman from mid-2013 through the end of 2014, while Selvaratnam said she was involved with him from the summer of 2016 until fall 2017.

Manning Barish said Schneiderman started getting violent a few weeks after they began dating, slapping her one night after an evening out and escalating to choking her. She said she confided in friends, including novelist Salman Rushdie.
"This was under no circumstances a sex game gone wrong," she said. "This did not happen while we were having sex. I was fully dressed and remained that way. It was completely unexpected and shocking. I did not consent to physical assault."

Selvaratnam, who was born in Sri Lanka, said Schneiderman started calling her his "brown slave" and made her say that she was "his property."

Schneiderman has been a vocal supporter of the #MeToo movement. He filed a lawsuit in February against movie producer Harvey Weinstein and the Weinstein Co. following an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, saying the company broke New York law by failing to protect employees from "pervasive sexual harassment, intimidation and discrimination."

He launched a civil rights probe into the New York City-based company in October after The New York Times and The New Yorker exposed allegations of sexual assault and harassment spanning decades. The company later fired Weinstein.

The women accusing him said seeing him speak out on sexual misconduct issues was part of the impetus in them coming forward.

"This is a man who has staked his entire career, his personal narrative, on being a champion for women publicly," Selvaratnam said. "But he abuses them privately. He needs to be called out."

Schneiderman, who won a state Senate seat representing a Manhattan district in 1998, became attorney general in 2010 and had been running for re-election this year. He has a history of recognition for activism on behalf of women's causes, including reproductive rights.

The NYPD said it has no complaints on file involving Schneiderman.

"If the NYPD receives complaints of a crime, it will investigate them thoroughly," NYPD Sergeant Brendan Ryan said. The NYPD said it would be reaching out in conjunction with the Manhattan D.A.'s office to the women mentioned in the report.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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