N.Y. Atty General Quits; What It Means For Russia Probe

Just a few hours after an article appeared in the New Yorker accusing him of physically abusing four women, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned from office.  

This bombshell announcement not only shook up the New York political scene, it also sent tremors through the investigations into collusion between Russia and the Donald Trump campaign for president.

The four women said that Schneiderman choked and slapped them repeatedly. Schneiderman announced he would continue to “strongly contest” the charges against him but felt he had no choice but to resign his position as the top law enforcement official in New York State.

“In the last several hours, serious allegations, which I strongly contest, have been made against me,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “While these allegations are unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of the office, they will effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time.”

Schneiderman’s resignation has come when he has increased his national profile because of his repeated legal challenges to the Trump administration. He has also asked the State of New York to change its laws so that his office could prosecute people connected to Trump if the president pardons them.

So here is the question: how does Schneiderman’s resignation affect the investigation into Donald Trump’s Russian collusion scandal?  The answer is that it might not affect it at all, but it depends on a number of factors.

Initially the Deputy Attorney General will step in to replace Schneiderman.  Soon, however, the New York State Legislature must choose a replacement Attorney General who will serve until the end of the elected term, which is the end of this year.  Someone new will be chosen in the November election, and that person will take over on January 1st of next year.

New York state politics are a bit complicated, so we can’t assume that the person chosen as a replacement will just carry on Schneiderman’s work.  The New York Legislature has a Democratic majority in the Assembly but in the Senate, where the Democrats have a one-vote majority, one of the Democrats caucuses with the Republicans, giving them the majority. The simplest move for the Legislature might be to simply appoint Schneiderman’s current deputy to finish out his term.

Odds are that a Democrat will be appointed who will carry on the Trump investigations without interruption. If a pro-Trump person is somehow appointed, then things would change dramatically but we don’t have any reason to assume this would happen.

This is a big deal because the New York state criminal investigations into Trump and his associates have been running in parallel to the Mueller probe.  Since presidential pardons don’t cover state charges, the New York investigations have been viewed as an insurance policy against a Trump pardon for his many co-conspirators.

Hopefully this will not change after Schneiderman leaves office.  We don’t know if Trump will pardon anyone, but if he does it’s nice to know that the state charges will not go away.  And of course that fact may prevent a presidential pardon from even occurring.

The Schneiderman story is a tragedy for him and his family.  It shows how much things have changed in the “Me Too” era, which is not bad.  Certainly Trump and his friends are happy to see bad things happen to one of their chief adversaries.  But it does not mean an end to the investigations of Trump and his associates in New York State.  And that is a good thing.