NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has named a special prosecutor to oversee the probe into abuse allegations against former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Schneiderman officially stepped down Tuesday evening, roughly 24 hours after the allegations of physical abuse from multiple women appeared in a New Yorker article.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office, Suffolk County district attorney’s office and NYPD have each launched investigations and on Tuesday night, Cuomo tapped Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas to lead the case.
“The integrity of our justice system is of paramount importance. News of former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s alleged improprieties as the State’s chief legal officer are grossly disturbing and must be fully investigated. The brave women who chose to come forward deserve swift and definitive justice in this matter,” the governor said in a statement.
In response, Singas’ office promised they will “vigorously investigate the allegations for which jurisdiction has been granted.”
Earlier in the day, Cuomo pointed out that when the scandal broke, Schneiderman was in the process of investigating why Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance did not bring sexual harassment charges against Harvey Weinstein.
“That is a potential complication,” he said, calling for an “independent district attorney, so there is justice.”
Escalating the war of words between himself and the governor, Vance sent a letter to Cuomo late Tuesday expressing his objection to the appointment of s special prosecutor. He claimed the only potential conflict of interest is one of Cuomo’s creation.
“If the concern is that our investigation of Mr. Schneiderman might be compromised by the fact that his former office is reviewing the conduct of my office in the unrelated Weinstein matter, any such conflict was eliminated as a practical matter when Mr. Schneiderman himself resigned as AG,” the letter read.
CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer asked Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill if they were comfortable with Vance’s office handling the probe.
“At this time, we are. We’re comfortable working with Cy’s office to investigate these allegations,” O’Neill replied.
Two women have gone on record, telling The New Yorker that they were berated, slapped and choked by Schneiderman during romantic relationships or encounters. Their alleged injuries, they say, were enough for them to later seek medical treatment.
“What they were expressing was a fear that there would be no justice because he was the attorney general and power would rule the day,” Cuomo said during an event Tuesday morning. “That was incorrect and I want them to know that’s incorrect.”
“What we saw yesterday evening was absolutely disgusting,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The attorney general of our state accused of doing things no one should be doing, let alone someone involved in law enforcement.”
“No one can do this to another human being, you can’t abuse people, you can’t harass them, you can’t use your power against them, you can’t threaten them, you just can’t do that, no one can do that,” de Blasio added.
According to the publication, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam say that during their relationships with Schneiderman, dating back to the 2013, he allegedly “repeatedly hit them, often after drinking, frequently in bed and never with their consent.”
Schneiderman allegedly warned one of his accusers “he could have her followed and her phones tapped,” according to the publication, and both Manning Barish and Selvaratnam said he “threatened to kill them if they broke up with him.”
According to the magazine, a third woman who was romantically involved with Schneiderman apparently told her story to the two other women, but was frightened to come forward.
A fourth woman alleges Schneiderman slapped her when she rebuffed him and asked to remain anonymous.
The New Yorker wrote that it confirmed the third woman’s accusations and viewed a picture of what the fourth woman claims was her injury.
Shortly after the article was published, Schneiderman denied the assault allegations, saying the relationships were consensual.
“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 a line I would not cross,” he said.
But after fellow New York Democrats, including Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, called for his resignation, he quickly capitulated.
“In the last several hours, serious allegations, which I strongly contest, have been made against me,” Schneiderman said in a statement late Monday. “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.”
Jennifer Cunningham, Schneiderman’s ex-wife, said in a statement provided by Schneiderman’s representative Monday night that the “allegations are inconsistent with the man I know.”
“I’ve known Eric for nearly 35 years as a husband, father and friend,” she said. “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.”
After the story was published, accuser Manning Barish in a tweet 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.”
Selvaratnam issued a statement through a spokesperson Monday night in response to the report to reiterate the abuse was not consensual.
“After I found out that other women had been abused by Attorney General Schneiderman in a similar manner many years before me, I wondered, who’s next, and knew something needed to be done,” the statement read. “So I chose to come forward both to protect women who might enter into a relationship with him in the future but also to raise awareness around the issue of intimate partner violence.”
Manning Barish said she was involved with Schneiderman from mid-2013 through the end of 2014. Selvaratnam said she was involved with him from the summer of 2016 until fall 2017.
The two women who spoke on record are described in the article as articulate, progressive, Democrat feminists in their 40s. They say were angered watching Schneiderman take such a visible role in the #MeToo movement.
The NYPD told CBS2 it has no complaints on file.
“I want to say to anyone who was victimized by the attorney general and has not yet come forward, please do come forward to the NYPD,” de Blasio said. “Rest assured you will be believed and that the information will be important to protect others and will be important because it is part of breaking this chain where people feel they can’t speak up.”
Meanwhile, the state’s Solicitor General, Barbara Underwood, will serve as acting Attorney General. She has a long history of legal work including serving in the Eastern District of New York and in the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens district attorney offices.
“She will provide good stewardship for the office and is a total professional,” Cuomo said.
In a statement, Underwood said she is “honored to serve the people of New York as acting Attorney General.”
“The work of this office is critically important,” she said. “Our office has never been stronger, and this extraordinarily talented, dedicated, and tireless team of public servants will ensure that our work continues without interruption.”
Schneiderman, a former state senator, became attorney general in 2010 and had been running for re-election this year. Under the New York Constitution, a vacancy in the office is filled by the state Legislature.
Schneiderman has also has been a longtime critic of President Donald Trump and has been part of several efforts to push back against some of his actions in the White House, like the rescinding of protection for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
Last month, he urged state lawmakers to close a loophole that he said could be used to fight state charges by anyone who has received a federal pardon for similar federal charges.
On Twitter, Donald Trump Jr. showcased one of Schneiderman’s tweets from last year saying that he would remind President Trump that no one was above the law, with Trump Jr. adding, “You were saying???”
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)