Photos Courtesy of the NY Attorney General’s Office
Former AG Eric Schneiderman is now under criminal investigation.
By Michael V. Cusenza
The political body of humiliated former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was barely cold when current and former pols from all areas—and eras—of the Empire State began tossing their names in the hopper to replace him.
At one point this week 17 candidates, including Acting NY AG Barbara Underwood, were listed as vying for the job. On Wednesday, Public Advocate Tish James formally kicked off her campaign for Schneiderman’s old post.
Some are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature to back off and keep Underwood as interim AG until November, when the electorate can decide who they’d like to see in the office for the next four years.
“The people—not the party bosses or the politicians in Albany—should pick the next State Attorney General,” said City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). “Let the acting AG finish out the term and allow the voters to make the decision in November.”
The once vaunted Democrat swiftly resigned last Monday after The New Yorker published another scathing #MeToo movement exposé titled “Four Women Accuse New York’s Attorney General of Physical Abuse.” In the story, four women with whom Schneiderman “has had romantic relationships or encounters” accuse him of “having subjected them to nonconsensual physical violence.”
“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,” the 63-year-old Schneiderman said in a statement.
The next day, Cuomo sent a letter to Underwood and Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas designating Singas “Special Prosecutor and Special Deputy Attorney General to investigate, and if warranted, prosecute, any and all matters concerning the public allegations against Mr. Schneiderman.” In the same missive, the governor called Schneiderman’s “alleged improprieties…grossly disturbing and must be fully investigated. The brave women who chose to come forward deserve swift and definitive justice in this matter.” Cuomo later added, “In addition to investigating the specific allegations outlined against Schneiderman in the article, the Special Prosecutor shall investigate facts in the article suggesting that the Attorney General staff and office resources may have been used to facilitate alleged abusive liaisons referenced in the article.”
Singas is the former head of the Special Victims’ Bureau at the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and the founding member of the Domestic Violence Bureau at the Queens DA’s Office.
“When the governor called and asked me to if I would take on this matter, I told him that I would do so and that I would begin an investigation that is thorough, that is fair, that is swift, and that make sure that everyone in the system is dealt with, with integrity and dignity,” Singas said. “We will listen to anyone who comes into the office to talk to us about victimization. We will gather the evidence that is necessary. We will analyze that evidence. We will analyze the laws of New York State to see when we can bring charges, if we can bring charges. We will treat this case the same way as we do all cases. There will be no stone left unturned. There will be a thorough investigation. We will treat this case the same whether the alleged perpetrator is a worker or a CEO or the former Attorney General of the State of New York.”
Some political fireworks erupted even over Cuomo’s appointment of Singas as Special Prosecutor. In his message to Underwood and Singas, Cuomo stated: “The Special Prosecutor’s jurisdiction will displace and supersede the jurisdiction of the New York County District Attorney’s Office, as there appears, at a minimum, an appearance of a conflict of interest with the Attorney General’s Office, which is currently investigating the relationship and actions between DANY and the New York Police Department and their handling of alleged illegal acts including sexual harassment and assault, by producer Harvey Weinstein. There can be no suggestion of any possibility of the reality or appearance of any conflict or anything less than a full, complete and unbiased investigation. The victims deserve nothing less.”
Manhattan DA Cy Vance fired off a letter to Cuomo objecting to his characterization, denying any hint of a conflict of interest, and asserting his jurisdiction in the Schneiderman probe. (Some incidents alleged in The New Yorker piece took place in Manhattan.)
Cuomo counsel Alphonso David responded directly to Vance with a missive of his own.
“It is frankly absurd to think that you can investigate an office that is simultaneously investigating your own conduct,” David wrote. “I would refer you – although as a law enforcement official I expect you are already aware – to the well accepted legal and ethical standards compelling law enforcement officials to avoid even an appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest.”