I just want to kick in a post about Schneiderman before this story fades, practically faster than I can blog about it. News cycles in the Trump era now move so briskly that the attorney general of New York, who’s been coordinating with Bob Mueller to potentially prosecute the president and his cronies on state Russiagate offenses, can be exposed as an abusive monster, resign from office in disgrace, and become old-ish news literally overnight.
Better get those takes in now before we’re all onto the Iran deal and whatever the new Stormygate drama ends up being.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office is now looking into Schneiderman’s behavior. Don’t hold your breath, though: They’ve been looking into Harvey Weinstein’s behavior for six months and there’s nary an indictment in sight.
Danny Frost, a spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said in a statement late Monday that prosecutors would look into the claims.
It’s an unusual twist: Schneiderman’s office had been tasked with investigating the Manhattan District Attorney’s office over its handling of a 2015 sex assault probe involving Harvey Weinstein that resulted in no criminal charges.
NYPD officials said they had not received any complaints, but would investigate thoroughly should anyone come forward.
How long should this investigation take, realistically? They need to interview Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam (plus, ideally, the two anonymous women who spoke to the New Yorker), look at the medical records from when the two sought treatment after being smacked around, and speak to the friends — one of whom is Salman Rushdie — who claim they were told at the time that the abuse was occurring. If everything seems credible after some basic due diligence, like establishing Schneiderman’s whereabouts on dates when the abuse occurred, that’s probable cause. It shouldn’t take months, especially if this case is made a priority.
Normally the D.A. might weigh the likelihood of conviction at trial and decide not to charge if he thinks he’s apt to lose, even if probable cause for an arrest exists, but not so much in this case. Schneiderman, after all, is accused not just of grievous physical abuse but grievous abuse of power. The most chilling line in last night’s New Yorker story wasn’t the details of him choking and slapping the women, as bad as that was. It was him allegedly once telling Barish, “I am the law.” Well, we’ll see, won’t we? Cy Vance has a heavy political incentive to show the public that he’s at least *trying* to hold this degenerate to the same rules everyone else has to play by. If the jury lets him go, that’s on them.
And in case you missed this passage in the New Yorker piece, the rules that Schneiderman and everyone else have to play by were, in this case, actually written by him. In addition to standard criminal prohibitions against assault, New York State has a special law that specifically prohibits strangulation because it happens so often in relationships where the abuse eventually leads to death. This guy, who was allegedly choking his partners in bed, was somehow woke enough to make choking a separate offense in the name of punishing violent men before they end up killing the women they’re with:
Not only did Schneiderman’s bill make life-threatening strangulation a grave crime; it also criminalized less serious cases involving “an intent to impede breathing” as misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in prison. “I’m just sorry it took us so long in New York State to do this,” Schneiderman declared at the time. “I think this will save a lot of lives.”
Jennifer Friedman, a legal expert on domestic violence, says that she cannot square Schneiderman’s public and private behavior. Anyone knowledgeable about intimate-partner violence, she says, knows that choking is “a known lethality indicator.” She adds, “I cannot fathom that someone who drafted the legislation on strangulation is unfamiliar with such concepts.” She also says, “A slap is not just a slap—it reverberates through the rest of the relationship, making her afraid of setting him off.” She adds, “People aren’t usually prosecuted for it, but, in the state of New York, slapping is assault when it results in pain or physical injury.”
Two lingering questions here. One: Why didn’t Schneiderman resign much, much sooner? Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer didn’t write this story overnight. Presumably they contacted Schneiderman himself for comment awhile ago. Even if they didn’t, friends of his would have gotten wind that something career-threatening was in the works. Why didn’t he quit preemptively, to do what little he could to short-circuit public interest in the scandal? It would have been a major scandal regardless but dropping this story on the sitting AG of New York State and having him resign in shorter order than it would take you to watch “Gone With the Wind” was an avoidable scenario. Does he really think he’s being smeared here and was prepared to fight the allegations?
Or was he so arrogant and self-deluded that he thought he might convince his party to let him keep his job? In hindsight, you’re left wondering if Schneiderman’s loud-and-proud woke #Resistance shtick, from targeting Trump to writing domestic abuse laws, was partly a matter of him banking political goodwill *knowing* that this might come out someday and he’d need liberals to circle the wagons for him. Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton made themselves politically indispensable to the left and survived, after all. Schneiderman had some reason to think he might too:
After the former girlfriend ended the relationship, she told several friends about the abuse. A number of them advised her to keep the story to herself, arguing that Schneiderman was too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose. She described this response as heartbreaking. And when Schneiderman heard that she had turned against him, she said, he warned her that politics was a tough and personal business, and that she’d better be careful. She told Selvaratnam that she had taken this as a threat.
If Schneiderman’s career had started a mere 10 or even five years early, he might still be in line to become governor now.
Two: How thorny will the statutes of limitations prove for Cy Vance in prosecuting Schneiderman? In New York the state gets five years to prosecute a felony but only two years to prosecute a misdemeanor. If Barish and Selvaratnam are telling the truth, Schneiderman’s guilty of at least third-degree strangulation (i.e. “Criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation”) and assault. Problem is, those are misdemeanors, and since Barish stopped seeing Schneiderman on New Year’s Day 2015, that means he would be off the hook for what he did to her. (Selvaratnam dated him until last fall.) On the other hand, second-degree strangulation and assault are each felonies; he could be prosecuted for what he did to Barish in that case. Second-degree strangulation requires “stupor, loss of consciousness for any period of time, or any other physical injury or impairment” in the victim. Second-degree assault requires “serious physical injury.” I don’t remember Barish or Selvaratnam claiming injury from choking in the New Yorker piece but they both needed medical care from the slapping. Would that qualify as “serious physical injury”? Let’s hope so, for Vance’s purposes.