“GQ: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on What It Takes to Keep Trump in Check”
November 29, 2017
As published by QG Magazine, on November 29, 2017.
Eric Schneiderman has been tangling with Donald Trump longer than most of the other people currently investigating him. Back before Trump was a politician, Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, sued Trump University for fraud in 2014. For his efforts, Schneiderman earned some nasty Trump tweets, a notorious hit piece in Jared Kushner’s New York Observer and, ultimately, a $25 million settlement.
Today, with Trump is in the Oval Office, Schneiderman is still at it—investigating aspects of the president’s dealings that fall outside the purview of the much-ballyhooed Mueller probe and the various Congressional investigations of Russian election-meddling. Schneiderman is quietly examining things like the president’s personal foundation (and that of Eric Trump), as well as Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Just last week, he blasted the FCC, led by a Trump appointee, for failing to help investigate an apparent scheme to help erase Net Neutrality.
GQ recently chatted with Schneiderman about the unique role he plays in trying to hold the president accountable on a wide spectrum of issues—and about the potential battles with Trump that lie ahead.
GQ: As a Democrat and a state attorney general investigating the president and his administration on several fronts, has the era of Donald Trump given you a new appreciation for federalism and the power of the states—a cause that gets championed often by conservatives?
Eric Schneiderman: I think apart from those investigations, there’s a renewed appreciation for progressive federalism. We’ve known for a long time that states are usually where the most effective policy changes are made, whether it’s worker’s rights, women’s rights, or a livable wage. But as people are now witnessing, states are also the first line of defense when the federal government mounts attacks on our civil liberties, healthcare, or economic prosperity. I think state A.G.s on the left and right always appreciated that fact, but now we’re seeing more journalists and members of the public recognize that reality too.
On the policy side, what do you expect will be New York State’s biggest legal showdowns with the Trump administration?
We have a number of critical fights ahead. We pledged to sue over the first and second healthcare bills that sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act, slash Medicaid, and undermine women’s rights. We’ll continue to monitor the threat of a disastrous healthcare bill.
It’s important to keep in mind that in one respect the healthcare fight is part of a wider effort by radical conservatives to oppress and disempower women. Denying women access to contraception and abortion services is a critical part of the larger machinery of oppression, discrimination, and violence against women and it’s incumbent on all of us to fight.
Our fight to protect Dreamers is a very important case right now. The Trump administration wants to just wipe their rights away with the stroke of pen. We’re doing our best to stop them.
We’re also very active on the environmental front, where we’ve seen the Trump administration mount attacks on public health on a weekly basis. Whether its undermining state-led efforts to move to renewable energy sources or rolling back regulations on toxic pesticides or methane, this administration consistently chooses polluters’ interests over the public’s. We’ve put a team of very talented attorneys in place to scrutinize each and every one of these dangerous policies—and policy reversals—coming out of the E.P.A.
Do you think there are specific issues where the attorneys general around the country—Democratic and Republican—are finding common ground?
We tend to gain the most bipartisan support before a radical proposal gains too much traction in Washington. For instance, we just earned the support of a bipartisan group of A.G.s to push back on members of the student loan industry who are trying to take enforcement powers away from attorneys general. We’ve worked hard across party lines to hold that industry accountable, protect students, and return money to people who’ve been defrauded. We’re also working with a very large, bipartisan coalition to investigate the manufacturers and distributors of opioids to examine their role in the opioid epidemic across the country.
Trump and some of his associates have gone after you for years. Now that he’s in the White House, do you feel the target on your back getting bigger?
Of course, there are always those who will seek to undermine and discredit our work, but as the people’s lawyer, you get used to that.
How often are you in touch with former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara? Is he advising you on any matters he was looking into before Trump canned him?
Preet and I had a great relationship while he was U.S. Attorney. We have spoken a few times since he left and it sounds like he’s found success doing something he does very well; writing and speaking passionately about the role of prosecutors and defending the rule of law.
Your office, Robert Mueller’s team and New York District Attorney Cy Vance are all investigating Paul Manafort for transactions that seem to overlap. Are you worried this could turn into a three-car pile-up?
As a practical matter, there’s nothing unusual about federal and state prosecutors staying in touch, especially when they may be conducting overlapping investigations. But when it comes to the special counsel investigation, I want to make one thing clear: that investigation is in the hands of Bob Mueller and his team.
Are you worried about the rule of law in this country?
This is a president who doesn’t like checks on his power. I got a front row seat to that when I investigated him for fraud in the Trump University case. Now we see it in his executive orders, several of which we’ve fought successfully to overturn.
Those of us in law enforcement and in prosecutors’ offices across the country have a responsibility to ensure that the rule of law survives. If we can’t get checks on the presidency from Congress, my office won’t hesitate to fill the space. I’m willing to bet on the rule of law. At the end of the day, I think that’s what the people want and it’s what they’ll fight for.