Political Hay

Is Eric Schneiderman a Crook?

Targeting Trump backfires as New York AG accused of corruption.

By 8.29.13

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Is the Attorney General of New York a crook?

Who is Neal Kwatra?

Who is Melvin Lowe?

What exactly was that federal sentencing memorandum all about?

Why isn’t Jon Corzine being prosecuted?

And exactly what went on in a closed-door meeting between New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and President Obama -- hours before Schneiderman filed a Saturday afternoon lawsuit against Obama’s famous critic –- Donald Trump? 

The questions about New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are piling up. And the irony is that the filing of a $40 million lawsuit against Trump that amusingly alleges the billionaire real estate mogul was trying to scrounge $35,000 a pop from innocents for his inspirational Trump University is so bizarre, wacky and legally weak it has wound up backfiring. Drawing attention to the activities and associates of Schneiderman himself.   

Let’s take a look at what’s out there. And begin to understand just why there would be a felt need by Schneiderman to employ the old lawyer’s trick of holding up the shiny object (in this case a lawsuit against Donald Trump) to distract from the disturbing facts -- in this case a lengthening trail of very disturbing facts -- that lead to the real questions:

Is Eric Schneiderman a crook?

And isn’t it finally time to start investigating the activities of a rogue state attorney general?

Let’s go through the list.

  • Eric Schneiderman and the Sentencing Memorandum

In the wonderland of corrupt New York politicians you can’t make it up.

Shirley Huntley is now in jail. Who is Shirley Huntley? Ms. Huntley is formerly Senator Shirley Huntley. Like Eric Schneiderman, Huntley is a former member of the New York State Senate and a liberal Democrat. Ms. Huntley, a 74-year-old grandmother, is in the slammer (story here) for a year and a day beginning in May of this year as the result of a federal corruption investigation .

The story gets better.

Caught red-handed stealing $88,000 from a taxpayer-funded charity that she personally controlled, the Grandma Senator agreed to help herself by helping the feds. How to do this? Sweet old Grandma Shirley invited a cluster of New York pols -- fellow State Senators and non-elected consultant types, Democrat pols one and all -- over to the rec room of her Queens home. All was sociable, no word on the snacks and drinks. Alas there is word on Grandma Shirley’s wardrobe. Underneath her lovely dress, Grandma Shirley was wearing a wire.

So when it came time for Grandma Shirley’s sentencing -- she did in fact receive some leniency because of her recording session -- the names of those present in her rec room were made public at last. They appear in a sentencing memorandum from Grandma Shirley’s lawyer, one Sally Butler. The sentencing memorandum, addressed to U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein, is found here in the Albany Times Union.

It provides fascinating reading, a behind-the-curtain glimpse of just how New York’s pols play the game when they think no one is looking or Grandma Shirley isn’t wearing a wire. There was a request to have the letter “filed under seal”… but hey. In the post-Watergate, post-Monica era, when secret White House tapes and a blue dress go public there’s not much chance for a document “filed under seal” to stay sealed. 

In a sentencing memorandum from Huntley’s attorney to U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein dated May 1, 2013, page 8 of the document says the following, bold print for emphasis:

Acceptance of Responsibility and Assistance to the Government

Mrs. Huntley met with attorneys for the government and FBI agents regularly over a six-month period. During her interviews with the government, she advised them that she had knowledge of what she believed to be corruption involving public officials. She was asked by the government’s attorneys and FBI agents to invite certain individuals into her home and record conversations on behest of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She willing did as they had requested. During the summer of 2012, Ms. Huntley upon the prompting of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI recorded and photographed the following individuals on multiple occasions:

What follows is a list of nine names, including six sitting New York State Senators, one of them the chair of the Democrats’ Senate Conference. The other three names include a New York City Councilman and two consultants. One of which is described in the sentencing memorandum to the federal judge in this fashion: 

Melvin Lowe, (former political consultant and associate of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman)

At the actual sentencing hearing, Huntley’s attorney Sally Butler also said, according to the New York Daily News, that

… Huntley told prosecutors she saw “politicians who were receiving… bags of money at the elevator” in the Senate building.

… Butler also made accusations against state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who prosecuted Huntley in a separate fraud case.

… that Huntley told the FBI "about corruption involving Eric Schneiderman."

The attorney went on to claim that Schneiderman’s office was furious that Huntley tried last summer to cut a cooperation deal with the feds and that Schneiderman’s office threatened to “blow up” the fraud case it was prosecuting against Huntley as a result.

Got this?

Grandma Shirley has told the feds that she had information about “corruption involving Eric Schneiderman,” the Attorney General of the State of New York. She also made a point of telling a Queens newspaper that “there were things that he (Schneiderman) had asked me to do that were not kosher.”

And in fact, listed in that federal sentencing memorandum as being recorded by Grandma Shirley in her rec room was this guy, listed in this fashion:

Melvin Lowe, (former political consultant and associate of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman)

  • Who is Neal Kwatra?

According to New York magazine, “Kwatra sees life as a campaign” and is famous for organizing New York “city’s hotel-workers union into a potent political force.”

According to Campaigns and Elections back in September of 2010, Kwatra, at the time the political director for the New York Hotel Motor Trades Council, is described as:

A slick and aggressive young operative, he’s widely credited for turning the small union into a power player at both the city and state levels. 

Kwatra, in other words is a far left-wing political activist. Fair enough. God bless America.

But until recently Neal Kwatra was something else as well. And that would be?

Chief of staff to the Attorney General of New York. Who would be one Eric Schneiderman.

Which raises the obvious question.

What in the world is a man who “sees life as a campaign” -- meaning a political campaign -- and is described by an insider’s campaign bible as a “slick young operative” doing running the office of New York State’s number one law enforcement official? This is the New York liberal equivalent of making Karl Rove the chief of staff to the U.S. Attorney General. The law is, supposedly, to be enforced in a non-partisan, even-handed fashion that gives citizens confidence in and respect for the law -- not to mention those charged with enforcing the law.

And just how does someone like Melvin Lowe, similarly a political operative, become identified in a federal sentencing memorandum as “a former political consultant and associate of State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.”

What Kwatra and Lowe have in common is that neither is some sort of éminence grise of the New York legal community -- a community that in fact has any number of wise, experienced lawyers who could be expected to serve as chief of staff to the state attorney general and whose very presence would send the signal that the Office of the Attorney General is decidedly not about undermining respect for the law.

In fact, the old adage that one is known by the company one keeps indicates in the case of Eric Schneiderman that his very first instinct, if not his every instinct, is to use the formidable prosecutorial powers of his office not to uphold the law but to play politics. Otherwise, why hire Neal Kwatra in the first place? And in the real world of the shadowy, sleazy underbelly of New York politics, if this is how you choose to conduct yourself and your job as attorney general -- how could you not wake up one fine morning to find your name prominently listed in a federal sentencing memorandum, with a prominent lawyer standing before a federal judge and saying that her client, a one-time fellow State Senator, has told the FBI about "about corruption involving Eric Schneiderman."?

  • Jon Corzine and MF Global

Fox Business’s highly respected business journalist Charles Gasparino wrote a column on Schneiderman that added more fuel to the concern over Schneiderman’s conduct of his office. Wrote Gasparino in an article back in June of this year that was titled "Democratic Hit Man: Rising Gripes on Schneiderman":

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman would like you to believe that, after layer upon layer of post-financial crisis reforms, the banking sector is still an out-of-control mess and the average citizen is in desperate need of a crusader like himself to keep these legions of bad guys under control.

The absurdity of the argument only lends credibility to the claim being advanced by some people on Wall Street, and increasingly in Washington, that Schneiderman should be investigated, for leading possibly the most politicized law-enforcement outfit in the country.

Sources say the ‘investigate Schneiderman’ movement is gaining traction among congressional Republicans, particularly in the House Financial Services Committee. One obvious reason: Schneiderman, a Democrat, seems to spare no expense in attacking critics of President Obama but hasn’t lifted an investigative finger when it comes to the sleaze involving fat cats in his own party.

Gasparino goes on to suggest as Exhibit One of Schneiderman failing to have “lifted an investigative finger when it comes to the sleaze involving fat cats in his own party:

The case of Jon Corzine.

You remember Jon Corzine. The super-wealthy head of Wall Street’s Goldman Sachs who was so good at fundraising for Democrats that he bought himself first a seat as the United States Senator from New Jersey then, apparently bored, purchased the New Jersey governorship. Where his performance was so dismal and filled with charges of corruption that he was unseated by Republican and current Governor Chris Christie.

Corzine’s next move was to become the chairman of a Wall Street brokerage outfit called MF Global. And what happened to MF Global under Corzine’s stewardship? The company imploded, with, as Gasparino noted all-too accurately “more than $1 billion in client money” gone missing “after a series of risky bets.”

Wow. A billion dollars vanishes. A billion dollars of private client money! Gone with the wind.

The media was filled with stories of investors like that of a software executive who went to check his painstakingly earned $580,000 investment account only to find it -- empty. Scandal erupts. Jon Corzine -- Democratic Party fundraiser extraordinaire, one-time US Senator and Governor -- resigns.

And where is Attorney General Eric Schneiderman? 

In a case where serious damage -- big time damage -- has been done to investors by a company based right in New York?

Under his bed.

Not a peep. Not…a…peep.

  • William Rapfogel

This next Schneiderman story is an absolute jewel. A real if inadvertent look into just how Schneiderman plays the game.

The story concerns one William Rapfogel. 

Who is William Rapfogel?

William Rapfogel is a Schneiderman appointee to Schneiderman’s own “advisory panel on nonprofit revitalization.” 

On August 15 -- barely two weeks ago -- the New York Post ran a story headlined

                       AG’s history with ‘kickback’ honcho

It seems that of a sudden, William Rapfogel is being investigated for “pocketing funds and directing campaign contributions to favored pols in a kickback scheme.”

And who is investigating Schneiderman’s appointee to Schneiderman’s advisory panel?

Yes. You guessed it. Schneiderman.

Not since Richard Nixon assured that he was investigating Watergate has there been such a glaring conflict of interest. 

But fear not. The Post reports:

“There’s no reason to believe he (Schneiderman) would soft-pedal the investigation because he once put Rapfogel on an advisory council," said NYU Law Professor Stephen Gillers.

Got that? An NYU law professor named Stephen Gillers is out there to vouch for Eric Schneiderman.

But who is Stephen Gillers?

As it happens, I vividly recall Professor Gillers from the Senate confirmation fight over a Bush 43 nominee to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. As a matter of fact, I wrote a book about the battle back in 2005, a paperback titled The Borking Rebellion. (Note: The book is out of print although… shockingly to the author…there are a couple of copies listed by someone on Amazon for impossible amounts of money. There is a Kindle version, listed here.)

There is an entire chapter in Borking devoted to the interesting ways of Professor Gillers and others involved in their role as so-called “independent ethics experts” for Senate Democrats. The game then was simple. Democrat Senators would write to Gillers or others to solicit their allegedly unbiased opinion as to whether the Bush judicial nominee of the moment was in fact ethical. Did action X by the nominee pass the smell test? In the case of the judicial nominee in question -- Federal District Chief Judge D. Brooks Smith -- the answer came back: Smith wasn’t ethical. As it happens, Smith was an old friend from college, and I knew with certainty that his reputation with his peers and the lawyers who practiced before him was, in the words of one, “sterling.” On investigation it turned out that Gillers was decidedly anything but “unbiased.” There isn’t the space here for details, but suffice to say Gillers was well on record -- if one dug -- as a liberal activist. He was the “go to” guy when it came to validating the opinions required by Democrats.

Now, eight years later, with the question of Eric Schneiderman’s ethics in the case of William Rapfogel at question -- who pops up to vouch for Schneiderman? That’s right: Professor Stephen Gillers.

And uncommented on in that New York Post story on Schneiderman and Rapfogel?

Accompanying the story is a smiling photograph of Schneiderman with Rapfogel -- and one other man. Who is that third man? That would be Schneiderman’s old State Senate colleague Eric Adams. And how do we know Eric Adams?

Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

That’s right. State Senator Eric Adams -- as seen here in the Brooklyn Eagle -- is one of the Senate Democrats recorded by Grandma Shirley’s wire in her rec room. Writes the Eagle:

Adams was among New York State state (sic) Democrats — seven of them elected officials — named in a Federal court filing made public on Wednesday as having been secretly wiretapped by convicted bribe-taking state senator-turned-government informant Shirley Huntley.

…As Adams left his Bedford Stuyvesant apartment on Wednesday, he told a New York Post reporter, "I have no comment, I have nothing to say."

"Call my office, just call my office," Adams said as he entered a blue BMW 328 convertible, the Post reported.

You can’t make it up. There is the Attorney General of the State of New York happily posing for a smiling picture -- with two pals both under investigation. One of them -- Rapfogel -- under “investigation” by Schneiderman himself.

  • The Obama-Schneiderman Private Meeting

Last but not least.

There is the strange coincidence of the Obama/Schneiderman meeting. As we noted last week, it now turns out that hours before Mr. Schneiderman launched his $40 million lawsuit against Donald Trump over Trump University, Schneiderman had a cozy private meeting with President Obama before the President spoke in Syracuse. While the President was on his campaign-style bus tour of colleges, the point of which, according to the New York Times, was to “shame colleges into easing costs.” And lo and behold, the fumes from the bus-o-cade had hardly vanished when Schneiderman made known his decision to sue Mr. Trump over…you can’t make it up….Trump University. 

What a coincidence!

And what was Mr. Schneiderman’s oily response when on the Today Show he was asked about this meeting with the President? Did they discuss Donald Trump -- the President’s bête noire? Replied Schneiderman in the always amusing fashion of the non-denial denial: 

“No, I saw the president at Syracuse, we spoke for a little bit, we had much more important things to talk about than Donald Trump.”

See the game at play? The answer was not “I never talked to the President about Donald Trump” or “We did not talk about Donald Trump.” The answer was “…we had much more important things to talk about than Donald Trump.” So clever, yes? Not since “I did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky” and “It depends on what the definition of is, is” has there been such verbal artistry at work.

Oh, please.

In fact, Trump University -- which changed its name to the Trump Entrepreneurial Initiative way back in 2010, has a 98% approval rating from its attendees. Anyone who thinks Donald Trump won’t be able to find attendees aplenty who loved the experience are foolish beyond measure.

But let’s stay focused here on Eric Schneiderman.

In a year when Americans have learned the hard way about the real motives behind seemingly impartial, even-handed, above-it-all institutions -- the IRS is the poster child for this -- Schneiderman’s pious declarations of legal propriety in the Trump lawsuit are laughable.

So.

What do we have here? What do we really have here?

Why is what is happening to Donald Trump important to understand?

Donald Trump isn’t being sued. Donald Trump is being targeted. 

Targeted by a man -- Eric Schneiderman -- whose Senate colleague has told the FBI “about corruption involving Eric Schneiderman.”

Targeted by a man -- Eric Schneiderman -- whose name appears in a federal sentencing memorandum citing as a suspect an “associate of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman”.

Targeted by a man -- Eric Schneiderman -- who hired as chief of staff to the Attorney General not an accomplished non-political lawyer but rather a man described as seeing “life as a campaign” and a “slick and aggressive young operative.”

Targeted by a man -- Eric Schneiderman -- who is the subject of an‘investigate Schneiderman’ movement by the U.S. House Financial Services Committee.

Targeted by a man -- Eric Schneiderman -- who refuses to investigate a Wall Street Democrat who lost $1 billion in private investor money.

Targeted by a man -- Eric Schneiderman -- who met with the President of the United States hours before announcing his Trump lawsuit and then went on national television to play word games about what was said.

The real news here? 

The real news is that Eric Schneiderman is using the shiny object that is Donald Trump to distract from the fact that Eric Schneiderman himself is doing everything he can to avoid being held accountable for what more and more people every day see as his politicization of the office of Attorney General of New York.

Which is to say, the Attorney General of New York’s lawsuit against Trump is nothing more than the work of a political scam artist masquerading as a law enforcement official.

“You can’t make false representations,” Schneiderman says of Trump.

Exactly. And pretending to be an above-it-all just-the-facts prosecutor when in fact your record is replete with allegations of corruption and sheer politics is nothing if not a “false representation.”

It doesn’t get more cynical than that. 

Much attention has been given this week -- and deservedly so -- to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington. 

This November will mark the fortieth anniversary of another historical event. The press conference at which then-President Richard Nixon stood before a group of editors and said: 

“People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook.”

Presumably, New Yorkers have a right to know the same about their state attorney general. 

Is Eric Schneiderman a crook?

It’s time for the investigation to begin.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.