Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general, reached a milestone of
moving to sue the Federal Communications Commission over net
neutrality this month, his office took its 100th legal or
administrative action against the Trump administration and
congressional Republicans. His lawyers have challenged Mr. Trump’sfirst,secondandthirdtravel
bans and sued over such diverse matters asa
rollback in birth controlcoverage and a
They have also unleashed a flurry of amicus briefs and formal letters,
often with other Democratic attorneys general, assailing legislation
they see as guttingconsumer
finance protectionsor civil rights.
try and protect New Yorkers from those who would do them harm,” Mr.
Schneiderman said during a recent interview in his Manhattan office.
“The biggest threat to New Yorkers right now is the federal
government, so we’re responding to it.”
Mr. Schneiderman’s seventh year as attorney general, the office has
been transformed into a bulwark of resistance amid an unusually
expansive level of confrontation with the federal government. Other
Democratic state attorneys general are undertaking similar efforts,
often in concert, like Xavier Becerra in California, whereextra
moneywas set aside in the budget for the
attorney general to battle the Trump administration.
far Mr. Schneiderman is willing to go in taking on Mr. Trump could
define his political career, particularly in a blue state where
disapproval of the president is high. The attorney general’s office
potential for troublemaking and generating national headlines was
redefined in the early 2000s by Eliot Spitzer. Mr. Schneiderman is a
less combative man who was often the target of Mr. Trump’s Twitter
wrath amid a three-year civil investigation into Trump University. In
the end, Mr. Schneiderman’s office extracted a $25 million settlement
in the case.
Mr. Schneiderman is seen by some as a possible backstop should the
president exercise his pardon power to help those who might become
ensnared in the investigation of possible Russian involvement in the
2016 presidential election being led by Robert S. Mueller III, the
special counsel. Federal pardons do not apply to violations of state
the interview, Mr. Schneiderman would say little about his potential
role as a criminal prosecutor in relation to the Trump administration,
except that he hoped it would not come to that. Earlier this year, Mr.
Schneiderman began a criminal inquiry focused on allegations of money
laundering by Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman. But
his office stood down, at least temporarily, out of deference to the
special counsel’s inquiry; the offices did not work together, his
have a lot of respect for the work the special counsel’s doing,” he
said. “They’ve put together a terrific team.”
watching it from the outside, like everybody else, it seems like
they’re doing a very thorough and serious job,” he added. “I hope
there’s not going to be any effort to derail them or shut them down.”
that happens, we’ll do — as I think would be a genuine sentiment
around the country — we’ll do whatever we can do to see that justice
is done,” he said. “But I hope we don’t have to face a problem like
Trump said recently he was not planning to fire Mr. Mueller, though
many of his allies havestepped
up their attackson the special counsel’s
Mr. Schneiderman’s myriad legal filings, the White House referred
questions to the Justice Department.
federal court system is not a substitute for the legislative process,”
said Devin M. O’Malley, a spokesman there. “The Department of Justice
will continue to defend the president’s constitutional and statutory
authority to issue executive orders aimed at securing our borders,
protecting U.S. workers, promoting free speech and religious liberty,
among many other lawful actions.”
attorneys general targeted President Obama’s policies while he was in
office. Scott Pruitt, the head of Mr. Trump’s E.P.A.,sued
the E.P.A. 14 timesas Oklahoma attorney general. But if Mr.
Schneiderman were to take on a criminal prosecution, it would likely
be met with disdain by conservatives. One columnist at the National
Review already called for Mr. Schneiderman torecuse
himselffrom any criminal investigation of Mr.
Trump because his comments and civil actions made it “impossible for
the public to have confidence that he could be impartial.”
Mr. Schneiderman and Mr. Trump have little in common. Mr. Trumpwatches
a lot of TVand craveshis
McDonalds. Mr. Schneiderman doesyoga.
“Other than sports, I really don’t watch TV much anymore,” Mr.
Schneiderman said, and paused to think about the last time he had
eaten a fast food burger. “That’s a long time ago.”
Schneiderman also says “it’s better to have opponents and not
enemies,” a statement that would seem to run counter to Trump
Mr. Trump became president, Mr. Schneiderman was not expecting him to
probably had more realistic expectations,” he said. “I saw the
scorched-earth approach. He sued me for $100 million. He filed phonyethics
complaints. He set up a website to attack me.”
Lyin’ Ted and Little Marco, I had my nickname,” Mr. Schneiderman said,
though Mr. Trump never appeared to settle on a single epithet. “I
didn’t have any reason to believe he would change.”
day after Mr. Trump’s victory, Mr. Schneiderman convened his staff in
Manhattan and began the process of reorienting the mission of the
election was so traumatizing that my first step was to try and,
essentially, pick everyone up off the canvas,” he said. “I had people
who were too depressed to go into work.”
staff soon began compiling something of a virtual war room, a Trump
database to track federal actions and plan their responses. In some
areas, Mr. Schneiderman said, they were “filling in” as the federal
government rolled back enforcement of civil rights protections, wage
rules and consumer protections.
there’s the second category where they’re actually doing something to
try and hurt New Yorkers,” he said. “And that’s not filling in, it’s
more like fighting back. A galvanizing experience for that was the
first travel ban.”
pace of the confrontations with the administration has hardly abated.
Recent actions have included joining 14 other statessuing
the Environmental Protection Agency“for
failing to meet the Clean Air Act’s statutory deadline” related to
unhealthy levels of smog, andchallengingthe
administration’s move to bar a 17-year-old immigrant from getting an
did anticipate that the administration was going to be aggressively
regressive,” Mr. Schneiderman said, adding: “I did not anticipate the
volume that he was going to start pumping out so quickly. These guys
were generating lots of trouble very quickly.”
has led to a tighter relationship among Democratic attorneys general.
“We don’t have a stronger or smarter ally,” Maura Healey, the
Massachusetts attorney general, said of Mr. Schneiderman in a
statement. He has also stayed in touch with Mr. Spitzer, who said in
an interview that “Eric has done a good job” and "stepped into a chasm
where today’s ideological divisions create a lot of room for
Schneiderman’s office continues to undertake prosaic work, such as a
recent settlement with anupstate
landlordwho returned $43,000 worth of
security deposits. There are weightier matters as well; a special
investigations unit has beenreviewing
casesin which unarmed New Yorkers were killed
by the police, a process that led to the recent indictment of an
upstate district attorneyon a
the Trump administration remains a central focus.
was a little worried after the first few weeks about burnout,” Mr.
Schneiderman said, but he added that lawyers in his office have
resisted being moved off topics taking on the administration and felt
that they were making a difference.
the one hand it feels like this year has been a hundred years long,”
he said. “On the other it feels like it shot by.”