Cuomo names special prosecutor to investigate Schneiderman

PHOTO: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks during a news conference in New York, Feb.12, 2018.PlayBrendan McDermid/Reuters,FILE
WATCH New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigns after report he abused four women

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has named a special prosecutor to investigate allegations that former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman abused four women.

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Schneiderman resigned on Tuesday.

Cuomo has appointed Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas to look into the claims, which Schneiderman has denied and which first were reported by the New Yorker.

"News of former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's alleged improprieties as the State's chief legal officer are grossly disturbing and must be fully investigated," Cuomo said in a letter on Tuesday to Singas and Barbara Underwood, the acting state attorney general. "The brave women who chose to come forward deserve swift and definitive justice in this matter."

Singas has been asked "to investigate, and if warranted, prosecute, any and all matters concerning the public allegations against Mr. Schneiderman, as reflected in the New Yorker article dated May 7, 2018 titled 'Four Women Accuse New York's Attorney General of Physical Abuse,' as well as any matters that may arise from this investigation," according to the letter.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance objected to Cuomo's announcement in a letter written directly to the governor a day after Vance said his office would investigate Schneiderman.

"While I have absolute confidence that DA Singas can conduct a thorough and effective review (and putting aside the legality of the way you have framed this directive), I strongly object to this move, for a number of important reasons," Vance wrote, in part, saying he agreed that "the victims of sexual abuse and violence deserve no less than a conflict-free investigation."

"However," Vance's letter continued, "the only potential conflict here is one of your creation: your recent directive that the AG’s office review, among other things, a 2015 investigation of Harvey Weinstein by my office and the NYPD. As I made clear to your office at the time, this review is an unwarranted intrusion by an elected executive into a charging decision by an independent prosecutor. The action, occurring on the very day your primary opponent announced her campaign for Governor, was viewed by some as politically motivated. I have no idea whether or not that is true. But more important, and beyond politics, it violated the separation of powers that is intended to promote confidence in the independence of our criminal justice system.

"The fact that this earlier directive has now caused you to intrude further into the criminal process by "re-assigning" the Schneiderman matter away from my office to a different elected prosecutor — however skilled — only compounds the mistake of that earlier action. ... Put simply, no prosecutors are better equipped to investigate and pursue such cases in Manhattan than those in my office; we do so, in partnership with the NYPD, every single day."

Cuomo issued a response to Vance's letter late Tuesday, which read in full:

"Confronted with the reality of a conflict, we took action to ensure both the integrity of the investigation and the public's confidence in the process. In doing so, we put in place an elected official and independent prosecutor who could preside over the investigation without the specter of conflict or compromise. I view the District Attorney's editorial commentary as both inappropriate and misguided given the ongoing investigations."