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NY Attorney General resigns amid allegations of violence toward women

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NY Attorney General resigns amid allegations of violence toward women

Image: Schneiderman speaks during a news conference
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Mary Altaffer AP file
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New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a prominent figure in the #MeToo movement who has taken on disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, abruptly resigned Monday night after The New Yorker published the accusations of women who said he was violent toward them.

In a statement, Schneiderman strongly denied the accounts in the 6,100-word article published Monday on The New Yorker's website.

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

But as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and the National Organization for Women all called on him to resign, Schneiderman said in a second statement that the allegations "will effectively prevent me from leading the office's work at this critical time."

"I therefore resign my office" effective Tuesday night, he said.

Schneiderman repeated that he strongly contested the allegations, as did his ex-wife, Jennifer Cunningham, a New York lobbyist who was divorced from Schneiderman in 1996. In a statement, she called the accusations "completely inconsistent with the man I know, who has always been someone of the highest character, outstanding values and a loving father."

The Manhattan district attorney's office told NBC News that it had opened an investigation into the allegations. New York police said in statement that they had no complaints against Schneiderman on file.

Schneiderman has been at the forefront of legal efforts to confront sexual harassment and discrimination. In February, his office sued Weinstein, Weinstein's brother, Bob, and The Weinstein Co. alleging "pervasive sexual harassment, intimidation and discrimination."

Weinstein, the subject of numerous allegations of rape, assault and sex harassment, has denied all accusations of improper behavior.

Mike Segar
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at a news conference in New York in March 2016.Mike Segar

Of the four women in The New Yorker, one described an incident that allegedly happened in her one-night encounter with Schneiderman. One of the women, who was described as a "romantic partner," didn't speak directly to The New Yorker.

The magazine quoted two of the women, who agreed to be named — Tanya Selvaratnam, an activist writer and actor, and Michelle Manning Barish, an activist and writer. Both said they were involved with Schneiderman in relationships that each lasted longer than a year. They described their interactions with Schneiderman as "assault" and said his behavior was fueled by heavy drinking. All four women characterized the alleged violence as non-consensual, according to the article.

"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," according to the article, by Ronan Farrow and veteran staff writer Jane Mayer.

"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," it said, adding that a spokesperson denied that Schneiderman ever made any threats.

Selvaratnam said in a statement Monday evening that she agreed to speak "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," she said.

Manning Barish posted on Facebook that she spoke out "for my daughter and for all women."

"It is all true," she wrote. "Except for the words of one man."

Schneiderman was seen as a rising Democratic Party star on the national stage. In 2016, he won a $25 million settlement from Donald Trump to end fraud cases against Trump University, a settlement that included Trump's agreement to pay up to $1 million in state penalties.

Cuomo said Monday night that he would seek an investigation and called on Schneiderman, who has raised several million dollars for a re-election campaign this year, to resign.

"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," Cuomo said in a statement.

"No one is above the law, including New York's top legal officer," he said.