A shocking political scandal in New York could have major implications for President Trump.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman abruptly resigned on Monday night just hours after the New Yorker published a bombshell report about his personal life alleging he was violent toward four different women. Schneiderman, who did not respond to a request for comment on this story, issued a statement saying he had merely engaged in sexual “role-playing.”
Schneiderman, who was elected in 2010, had been pursuing Trump on several fronts — his personal business, the special counsel investigation into the 2016 election and on behalf of New York state against actions taken by the Trump administration.
Trump allies — including his son Donald Trump Jr. and counselor Kellyanne Conway — celebrated the news of Schneiderman’s downfall.
“Gotcha,” Conway tweeted.
Schneiderman’s perch in the Empire State gave him jurisdiction over Trump’s company. He first took on Donald Trump in August 2013 when he sued Trump for fraud in conjunction with Trump University, a seminar series that the former attorney general called a “sham.” Trump agreed to pay a $25 million settlement to students of the program who had brought their own lawsuit, claiming they had been misled with false claims that the costly courses would guarantee success in the real estate business.
Since Trump took office, Schneiderman has been cooperating with Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s role in Trump’s election. That was a threat to Trump because the president could pardon anyone indicted by Mueller, but has no pardon power over state charges. In Albany, N.Y., Schneiderman had been pushing to change New York law to close a double-jeopardy loophole that might have prevented him from bringing charges in that situation.
Along with his work with Mueller, Schneiderman has filed a flurry of lawsuits against the Trump administration. This blitz included suits against each iteration of Trump’s travel ban, the repeal of DACA and rollbacks in emissions standards. Schneiderman’s office filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court in cases involving the travel ban and LGBT discrimination. Other states also joined many of these suits, but Schneiderman often led the coalitions.
It’s not known if Schneiderman has been conducting its own investigations into Trump’s affairs. His office has not commented.
With Schneiderman stepping down, the solicitor general, Barbara Underwood, becomes acting attorney general. A new attorney general could be chosen by the state Legislature, with both houses meeting in joint session. Democrats, led by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, have the majority and would be able to pick Schneiderman’s replacement. Multiple sources have told Yahoo News that the leading contenders include New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Kathleen Rice, state Sen. Michael Gianaris and state Sen. Jeffrey Klein. Heastie did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
On Tuesday, the political buzz centered on James, who is known to be interested in the office and previously worked as an assistant attorney general. As public advocate, a nebulous position, she is New York City’s second-highest elected official and one of the state’s most prominent African-American women in office. A source familiar with the workings of the attorney general’s office predicted James would be a vocal opponent of Trump if she’s tapped for the job.
“I think she would be aggressive and political in terms of going after Trump,” the source said.
But any replacement picked by the Legislature will serve out only the remainder of Schneiderman’s term, which ends in December, unless that replacement runs for a full four-year term in November. Party primaries are on Sept. 13.
A well-connected New York politico said legislators may forego naming a temporary replacement, leaving Underwood in the job and allowing voters to decide who should fill the office. Although there is already political pressure for the Legislature to choose this option, it would deprive legislators of the opportunity to reward a favorite and affect the shape of multiple upcoming races.
The source familiar with the workings of the attorney general’s office predicted that, if Underwood remains in place, she would continue Schneiderman’s existing work.
“If it’s Barbara Underwood, she’s like a lawyer’s lawyer,” the source said, noting she has argued before the Supreme Court.
“I imagine she would continue all the Supreme Court actions, but I don’t know how aggressive she’d be in terms of going after new actions,” the source said.
As for the election, New York’s statewide races generally lean Democratic, but Republicans are hoping Schneiderman’s woes could give them an opening. Republican Manny Alicandro, a corporate lawyer, launched a campaign shortly before the news broke. With Schneiderman out of the picture, more high-profile GOP candidates could also enter the fray. A Republican victory would be a major boon to Trump. Alicandro has criticized Schneiderman’s attacks on the White House as attention-seeking gamesmanship.
There are at least two Democratic prospects eyeing that race who aren’t on the Legislature’s shortlist — former gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout and ex-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Teachout gained notoriety in the state by mounting a surprisingly successful progressive challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014. In a tweet on Tuesday, Teachout said she is “seriously considering running for Attorney General.” Bharara was fired by Trump last year and has since emerged as a major critic of the White House on Twitter and in a popular podcast. Both Teachout and Bharara did not respond to requests for comment.
If Schneiderman’s successor takes on Trump, that person may have the advantage of putting in a full day at the office. The report detailing the abuse allegations also claimed Schneiderman drank heavily and used prescription drugs. Although all of the insiders who spoke to Yahoo News said they were stunned by the allegations, multiple sources who worked with Schneiderman said he regularly showed up to work several hours late.
“We just thought he was lazy,” a source said.
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