Something's Wrong with This Story About Trump and Schneiderman

The president and his personal attorney allegedly knew about abuse allegations in 2013

Former New York AG Eric Schneiderman and President Trump Credit: Seth Wenig/AP/REX Shutterstock, Carolyn Kaster/AP/REX Shutterstock

Many are still reeling from the allegations against (former) New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and now it appears that Donald Trump and Michael Cohen knew about the claims all the way back in 2013 – right around the time the former AG filed a lawsuit against the future president.

A letter filed in Manhattan federal court Friday claims that Cohen was informed of the allegations by a retired journalist, who was told of them by a lawyer who had been approached by two women Scheiderman allegedly abused. The letter implies Trump also knew about the allegations, as does this tweet sent that September.

As the tweet implies, Trump was none too fond of Schneiderman, a progressive Democrat who in 2013 sued Trump for allegedly swindling millions of dollars from students of Trump University. A $25 million settlement was reached in November 2016, not even two weeks after Trump was elected. "Today’s $25 million settlement agreement is a stunning reversal by Donald Trump and a major victory for the over 6,000 victims of his fraudulent university," Schneiderman said at the time.

The letter filed Friday was written by New York attorney Peter Gleason, who is requesting a protective order on any documents related to the Schneiderman allegations that may have been part of those seized when federal investigators raided Cohen's office and hotel room last month. Gleason writes of how two women approached him – the first in 2012, the second in 2013 – with similar accusations of abuse against Schneiderman. Gleason did not want to inform authorities, whom he feared corrupt. Instead, he discussed the allegations with retired New York Post journalist Stephen Dunleavy, who, according to Gleason, suggested taking the matter to Donald Trump. He apparently did so, because soon thereafter Gleason received a call from Cohen, to whom he detailed the allegations made against Schneiderman.

On Friday, Dunleavy told CNBC over the phone from the Florida Keys that he never spoke to Trump or Cohen about the allegations. Gleason then told CNBC that Dunleavy "might have spoken to the secretary" for Trump, because there would have been no way Cohen would have known to call him otherwise.

None of this makes any sense. The most glaring question is why would a lawyer who claims he "wanted these women to realize someone believed them" decide to take this information to a retired reporter, and why would that retired reporter then take it to Donald Trump?

Schneiderman's allegedly abusive behavior was made public on Monday in a disturbing report published by The New Yorker. The magazine spoke to four women who alleged similar tales of violent physical abuse at the hands of Schneiderman, who had fashioned himself a champion of the #MeToo movement. Scheiderman resigned his post as attorney general the day the report was published. Following the release of Gleason's letter, speculation has arisen that Trump was behind the New Yorker story exposing Schneiderman, but both of its authors, Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, have denied the possibility, tweeting that all of the women they spoke with opposed Trump.

This is all incredibly bizarre, and there are still too many unknowns to even begin to understand what the hell is going on here. What we can assume is that, as Justin Miller of the Daily Beast points out, Trump possessed compromising information on Schneiderman while Schneiderman was prosecuting the Trump University case. This seems significant.

If the abuse allegations made their way to Cohen through Dunleavy, it’s hard to believe Cohen would have then called Gleason to discuss the details of the allegations if he didn’t think they may be of use to his client, Donald Trump, who, again, was in the middle of a legal battle with Schneiderman. It’s unclear whether Trump or Cohen made it known to Schneiderman that they possessed this information, but Cohen does have a reported history of using thuggish intimidation tactics as Trump's personal attorney.

On Friday, Gleason told the Los Angeles Times that he suspected Cohen might have had things other than the welfare of the alleged victims in mind when he called Gleason a day after learning of the allegations. "Cohen had a very sympathetic ear," Gleason said. "I realized, as a lawyer, he may want to use that information against his adversary."

With the possibility on the table that Scheniderman knew Trump possessed this information, it’s worth examining how Schneiderman handled the Trump University case. At the time of the settlement, Judge Gonzalo Curiel noted that the $25 million settlement would ensure "victims of Donald Trump’s fraudulent university will finally receive the relief they deserve" and called the number "extraordinary" in comparison to other class action settlements.

Happy Friday.

This post has been updated to include additional details about the Trump University settlement.