‘I Am the Law’
When Your Abuser Is the State’s Top Law Enforcement Official
After Eliot Spitzer and now Eric Schneiderman, one wonders if something about the N.Y. AG's office beckons to men who want to exert physical and emotional control over women.
Four women who have been in relationships with Eric Schneiderman, New York’s top law enforcement official, recounted horrible experiences of abuse at his hands to The New Yorker. Barely three hours after their accounts were published, Schneiderman issued a statement of resignation.
The New Yorker story, “Four Women Accuse New York’s Attorney General of Physical Abuse,” is about just what it sounds like: a man abusing women. It’s not a story about which political party has the real monsters and hypocrites, as Kellyanne Conway was quick to imply in a tweet. It’s not a story about who gets to step up now in New York politics, as the horse-race forecasters started discussing even before the calls from elected officials for Schneiderman’s resignation started coming in.
The story was—though it should not have been—an opportunity for politicians to engage in virtue-signaling, sending out now-safe calls for a disgraced colleague’s resignation in lieu of actually cleaning house, and turning in the known abusers who haven’t been publicly exposed yet.
Barely three hours passed before Schneiderman, denying the women’s charges, announced he would resign, and people had already found time to hurl truly unhinged vitriol at one of the women brave enough to speak out against the top law enforcement official in her state, who once told her, “I am the law,” and vowed she’d regret ever crossing him.
That’s one of the first tweets responding to Michelle Manning Barish sharing The New Yorker story in which she went public with abuse allegations against Schneiderman. In her tweet, Manning Barish wrote, “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…”
And amid dozens of tweets thanking her for her bravery is that one, accusing her of lying for money. Another wrote, “SCREW YOU. SCREW YOUR DAUGHTER.” Manning Barish’s daughter is 9 years old. “All that matters is to #impeachtrump,” this Twitter user continued. “Much bigger cause than your pride. #metoo my ass. It’s our republic at stake here.”
President Donald Trump is not part of The New Yorker story. Nor is Manning Barish’s pride. Her wrist is:
“Soon after she started dating Schneiderman, he told her to remove a small tattoo from her wrist; it wasn’t appropriate, he said, if she were to become the wife of a politician. The process of having it removed was painful and expensive. In retrospect, she says, it was the first step in trying to control her body,” the magazine’s Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow note.
And her ear, which “bothered her for months,” after Schneiderman allegedly slapped her across the face one night, before using the weight of his body against hers to hold her down and choke her. Blood trickled out of her ear months later, pooling in her collarbone, she said. She covered for Schneiderman, according to The New Yorker, and lied to an ear, nose, and throat doctor and said she injured herself with a Q-tip.
Mayer and Farrow go to lengths in their story of explaining why women stay with men like this, how this kind of abuse persists. As one of Schneiderman’s alleged victims points out, her options for legal recourse—filing an ethics complaint; bringing a civil suit—were inextricably intertwined with the attorney general’s power. Now, in the typical haste with which politicians seem to love seizing women’s pain for their own purposes, Conway wasted no time promoting the story (“Allegations are harrowing. Violence Against women. Drunk with power. It’s so tough to read you must.”) and Gov. Andrew Cuomo—who protects abusive men in his own employ—called for Schneiderman’s resignation and for a local district attorney to investigate the A.G. But Schneiderman was investigating Manhattan D.A. Cy Vance for not prosecuting Harvey Weinstein. Where’s the hero in this equation? Forget heroes, where’s the functioning legal process?
During her relationship with Schneiderman, Manning Barish said she lost so much weight, her hair started to fall out. Meanwhile, the attorney general squeezed her legs and called her chubby, she said. The top law enforcement official in the state, Schneiderman allegedly told Manning Barish, “If you ever left me, I’d kill you.” When she made “an oblique reference” to him on social media, he allegedly called her and said, “Don’t ever write about me. You don’t want to do that.” The call reminded her of Schneiderman once telling her, “I am the law.” The words were uttered when she objected to being dragged across a street and reminded him, “Jay-walking is against the law,” according to The New Yorker report.
Manning Barish is one of four women to come forward with claims about Schneiderman. Two of the four are still too scared of the Democratic attorney general to go public with their names. One was advised by a number of friends to keep her experience to herself because “Schneiderman was too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose.”
It’s hard not to see party politics as an unfathomable scourge on society in these circumstances. Schneiderman is only a man, as much as he and his fans would like to think otherwise. He was not the last bulwark preventing the collapse of the republic. He’s a man who couldn’t even stand up to Andrew Cuomo, another political figure who is just a man. Schneiderman is a man who works in Albany, where flagrant abuse has been a widespread issue for years, and he saw no evil. He’s a man who posted some tweets expressing solidarity with women and who sued Trump for a fraudulent university, which was a basic tenet of doing his job in New York State.
He’s also, as one of his victimized ex-girlfriends notes, the top law-enforcement official in the state. When he allegedly warned his victims he could tap their phones, have them followed, ruin their lives, they were not wrong to believe him. All of those things are within his grasp. This is a political story insofar as it is a story about a political figure allegedly using his political power as part of his abuse of women. It is a story about political stature weaponized for abuse.
It’s hard not to recall the phone call published earlier this year by The New York Post featuring former attorney general Eliot Spitzer threatening the life of an escort who says Spitzer choked her against her will. One wonders if there is something about this office that beckons to men who allegedly want to exert physical and emotional control over women. Or, for those inclined to make these stories about party politics, we can ask why the New York Democratic Party deems these men electable, holds them worthy of office. It’s fair in New York to poke at the Tammany Hall-style machinery that propels men like this ahead. It’s not fair, anywhere, to expect a woman to be silent for some unrealistic higher goal, like a man this flawed saving the republic. You cannot be a good guy and abuse people. Those two things are incompatible.
Like Spitzer before him, Schneiderman tried to claim that his alleged transgressions had nothing to do with his political office. “While these allegations are unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of the office,” Schneiderman wrote in his resignation statement, “they will effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time.” This is both true and not true. It is true that Schneiderman’s staffers are likely untainted by his alleged abuse of these women, that the work they’ve done to root out fraud and corruption with cases like the one against Trump University or the investigation into Vance, is uncompromised. But Schneiderman allegedly used his political power to abuse these women. He allegedly tried to frighten them into silence by reminding them of the power he held, his power to harm them and get away with it. He is unfit for this office, and that is shown clearly in the way he allegedly treated these women.