National News

Trump circle delights in crash

Posted May 11, 2018 6:53 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON _ President Donald Trump's closest backers are reveling in the downfall of former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman _ even retweeting Trump's own 2013 prediction that "lightweight" Schneiderman would be "next" to go.

"Gotcha," tweeted Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway on Monday evening, just hours after The New Yorker posted an explosive expose that detailed four women's allegations of sexual abuse by Schneiderman. The Democrat resigned later that evening.

Donald Trump Jr. also took a shot at how Schneiderman defended his behavior in allegedly abusive relationships as "role-playing."

"Hey Eric, it's not 'role play' if only one of you is in on it," Trump Jr. tweeted.

In addition to the sweeping ramifications for the future of his office, Schneiderman's abrupt exit removes a major Trump legal nemesis from the field of combat.

Schneiderman was investigating Trump-connected individuals, such as former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who are also in the crosshairs of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and related matters.

Any effort by Trump to fire Mueller or offer presidential pardons to people like Manafort would have had little effect on potential parallel investigations by Schneiderman's office.

In addition, Schneiderman was conducting an investigation of the nonprofit Trump Foundation, and had won a $25 million settlement for former students of the president's now-defunct "Trump University" success program.

But at a more overtly political level, Trump's inner circle and perhaps the president himself appear to be hoping Schneiderman's alleged misdeeds take the heat off Trump in the #MeToo era.

At least 11 women have said Trump forcibly kissed, fondled or groped them against their will. Trump also famously bragged on an open microphone during a "Access Hollywood" taping in 2005 that such conduct is acceptable because "when you're a star, they let you do it."

And while the focus of the Stormy Daniels case is the $130,000 payoff to keep the porn star quiet about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump, the imbroglio only reinforces the image of Trump as a predatory libertine.

"Seeing Schneiderman go down for the count does create a sense of distancing from their own troubles," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Poughkeepsie-based Marist Poll.

"It may provide them a little relief _ but it's temporary," Miringoff said. "I suspect whoever ends up (running the attorney general's office) will continue to go down the same legal routes as Schneiderman."

Political leaders of both parties have condemned sexual abuse and harassment. But they have frequently differed in their reactions to accusations against their opponents as opposed to members of their own political tribe.

"This is a male-power problem, so you can't draw lines between Republicans and Democrats," said Donna Young, a professor at Albany Law School who specializes in gender issues. "However, I do think Democrats take it much more seriously _ they denounce it relatively quickly. Republicans make excuses for it."

Young cited the Democrats' calls for the exits of U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Rep. John Conyers after revelations of sexual indiscretions, either alleged or admitted.

By contrast, Young said, many Republicans _ including Trump _ did little or nothing to distance themselves from Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama in the wake of last fall's revelations he engaged in improper relationships with teenage girls. Trump endorsed Moore, justifying his actions by saying that the candidate had denied all the claims against him. Moore's defeat in a special election handed Democrats a rare victory in the deep-red state.

New York Republican Chairman Edward Cox sidestepped the question of each party's relative moral culpability in the wake of Schneiderman's departure.

Schneiderman, Cox said, was a central figure in the "culture of corruption" that has grown out of Democratic control of the governor's mansion as well as the positions of attorney general and comptroller.

"What it shows here is that Schneiderman was using #MeToo for his own purposes," said Cox, referring to Schneiderman's robust support of women's issues.

But what about Trump? Does the Schneiderman case do anything to let him off the hook?

"I'm not talking about the president," Cox replied. "This is about Andrew Cuomo. He is responsible for the culture of corruption in Albany."

dan(at)hearstdc.com