Authorities in Virginia are dealing with a series of scandals that have put the fate of the state’s top three officials, Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, in question.
Northam has repeatedly said he will not resign after a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced earlier this month that purportedly showed him in either a Ku Klux Klan robe or blackface. Northam initially admitted he was in the picture, but he later denied it, according to The Associated Press.
Two women came forward last week to accuse Fairfax of sexually assaulting them on separate occasions. Fairfax has denied the allegations.
Herring last week admitted he once wore blackface to a party as a teenager
Update 3:30 p.m. EST Feb. 14: Embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is conducting business as usual as the scandal embroiling the state’s top three government executives continues to play out.
Northam submitted a spending plan Thursday urging lawmakers to restore funding to the levels he proposed earlier this year.
Meantime, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax issued a statement at 2:55 a.m. Thursday morning, again denying sexual assault claims against him and threatening to sue anyone who spreads the allegations, according to The New York Times.
Update 1:50 p.m. EST Feb. 13: A prosecutor in Massachusetts is offering to investigate an allegation made against Fairfax from a woman who said he forced her in 2004 to perform oral sex on him in his hotel room at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, according to multiple reports.
Last week, attorneys for Vanessa Tyson got an email from Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins offering the chance to file a complaint against Fairfax, The Washington Post reported. According to the newspaper, the statute of limitations for sexual assault in Massachusetts is 15 years. The timeline would give prosecutors just months to bring criminal charges against Fairfax, the Post reported.
Tyson, a political science professor at Southern California’s Scripps College who is spending a year as a research fellow at Stanford University, appeared in public Tuesday for the first time since her allegations were made public. She was one of two speakers at “Betrayal and Courage in the Age of #MeToo,” a symposium at Stanford.
Authorities at the college prohibited audience members from asking Tyson about her allegations against Fairfax and she did not address them directly.
“One thing that I notice with sexual violence is that there are many people who would like to glance away from this,” Tyson said. “It’s one of the ugliest parts of humanity. Trust me.”
Update 9:15 a.m. EST Feb. 11: A Virginia lawmaker on Monday backed away from plans to introduce articles of impeachment for Fairfax after a pair of women levied sexual assault allegations against him.
Fairfax has denied the allegations, which involve two women who say they were sexually assaulted by the lieutenant governor in the 2000s.
Democratic Del. Patrick Hope said last week he planned to file articles of impeachment against Fairfax if he failed to turn in his resignation by Monday.
“Yesterday I sent draft language to my colleagues on the first step of an impeachment action regarding the Lt. Governor,” Hope wrote Monday in a tweet. “There has been an enormous amount of sincere and thoughtful feedback which has led to additional conversations that need to take place before anything is filed.”
Update 11 a.m. EST Feb. 10: Appearing on CBS “This Morning” with Gayle King, Northam said once again that he would not resign.
“Virginia needs someone that can heal. There’s no better person to do that than a doctor,” Northam, who is a doctor, said. “Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass and that's why I’m not going anywhere.
“I have learned from this, I have a lot more to learn, but we are in a unique opportunity right now. Again, the 400th anniversary of the history, whether it be good or bad, in Virginia, to really make some impactful changes.”
Northam did not call it slavery by name, but he was speaking of the anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619.
When asked about Fairfax, Northam stopped short of saying the lieutenant governor should resign. He said he supported Fairfax’s call for an investigation and that
“I can only imagine that it must take tremendous courage for women to step forward and and talk about these things that are just are just so hurtful. And these accusations are very, very serious. They need to be taken seriously. As you know, Governor Fairfax has called for an investigation. I really think where we are now, we need to get to the truth ...
“If these accusations are determined to be true, I don't think he's going to have any other option but to resign,” he said.
Update 10 p.m. EST Feb. 9: The attorney for a woman who accuses Virginia’s lieutenant governor of rape in 2000 says her client is willing to testify in front of the state legislature if an impeachment hearing takes place according to The Associated Press.
Attorney Nancy Erika Smith released the statement Saturday night on behalf of Meredith Watson after Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax denied the allegation and called for the FBI and other authorities to investigate.
Fairfax says the encounter was consensual. The two were students at Duke University at the time.
Smith says Watson will provide investigators at least two witnesses who she told about the alleged assault the day after it occurred.
Fairfax has denied wrongdoing.
Update 4:30 p.m. EST Feb. 8: A second woman has come forward accusing Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault.
Legal counsel representing Meredith Watson wrote a letter requesting the resignation of Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax Friday afternoon.
The letter claims that he raped Watson in 2000.
Watson’s legal counsel said that she was upset when she learned that Fairfax reportedly raped another woman in manner similar to the attack she suffered.
Fairfax refuted the claim saying “I will not resign.”
Update 8:50 a.m. EST Feb. 7: President Donald Trump on Thursday weighed in on the political turmoil in Virginia, writing in a tweet that, “Democrats at the top are killing the great state of Virginia,” and questioning the response to the burgeoning scandal.
“If the three failing pols were Republicans, far stronger action would be taken,” the president wrote.
Democratic politicians were waiting Thursday morning on the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus’ response to the latest developments in the scandal, The Associated Press reported. The caucus quickly condemned Northam, but the group has been silent since Herring admitted he once wore blackface to a party as a teenager and since Fairfax was accused of sexually harassing a woman 15 years ago.
Vanessa Tyson issued a statement Wednesday saying Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex in 2004 during the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Fairfax has repeatedly denied her allegations, saying the encounter was consensual.
Update 2:50 p.m. EST Feb. 6: On Wednesday, state Attorney General Mark Herring, a white man, admitted in a statement that he wore blackface to a party in the 1980s.
“In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song,” Herring said in the statement. “It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes -- and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others -- we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup.”
The revelation is the latest to shake the top levels of Virginia’s state government after the image from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced last week and after a woman came forward to accuse Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, a charge he denies.
Herring would be next in line to be governor after those two men.
He apologized Wednesday for the 1980 incident.
“That I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt,” he said. “In the days ahead, honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general, but no matter where we go from here, I will say that from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation.”
Update 3:40 p.m. EST Feb. 5: Officials with Northam’s alma mater, Eastern Virginia Medical School, will investigate how racist photos have gotten into yearbooks over the years, including Northam’s 1984 yearbook, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
The school’s president and provost, Dr. Richard V. Homan, told the newspaper there will be multiple investigations, including one led by an outside law firm, and that they will also “examine the broader campus culture.”
“We need to have an open and transparent process to be able to make sure that we know what happened — what was lacking at the time — so history doesn’t repeat itself,” Homan said, according to The Virginian-Pilot. “And then also understand where we are today.”
Homan had vowed over the weekend to investigate the image that surfaced last week from Northam’s yearbook and other similar incidents.
“I will direct that an external investigation be conducted as soon as possible to review all of our past yearbooks, determine the processes for publishing those yearbooks; discover what, if any, administrative oversight was exercised; examine our campus culture; and provide recommendations for future actions,” he said in a statement released by the school.
Update 4:50 p.m. EST Feb. 4: In a Monday morning cabinet meeting, embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam asked for time to clear his name before leaving office, according to CNN, which cited an unnamed source.
Northam said, in asking for more time, he doesn’t want to be labeled a “racist for life,” CNN reported.
Meantime Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who would take over for Northam should he resign, is fighting his own battle after allegations of a 2004 sexual assault recently surfaced.
In a statement Monday, Fairfax denied the allegation, which also surfaced on the same conservative website that posted the photo of Northam in either blackface or a Ku Klux Klan robe.
“We reiterate that this allegation is false. At no time has the Lt. Governor assaulted anyone at any time or at any place,” Fairfax’s statement said.
Fairfax called the allegation “a smear” with no corroboration and threatened to sue anyone who continues spreading “these false allegations.”
Update 11 a.m. EST Feb. 4: Northam met quietly with his top administration officials on Monday, according to The Associated Press. Still, the AP reported he gave no indication that he intended to reverse his decision not to resign amid mounting pressure from both sides of the aisle.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, who previously campaigned with Northam, called the incident “unfortunate” in an interview Monday with “CBS This Morning.” He has also called for Northam to resign.
“He should step down and start his road to redemption,” Booker said. “Being governor of a state is not an entitlement. I believe in the ideas of redemption, and we should not be judged by the lowest points in our past, but the reality is this is hurtful, painful -- it's a betrayal of public trust.”
Former Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticutt, warned Monday against a "rush to judgement" during an interview on CNN.
"One, he says he wasn’t in that picture. Two, I think we ought to fairly ask him, did he know the picture was on his page of the yearbook? And three, he ought to be judged in the context of his whole life," Lieberman said. "I pray every day that God is merciful with me because I know how imperfect I am and I always feel that I have to show the same kind of mercy to other people in judgment until they’re actually proven guilty."
Update 12:30 p.m. EST Feb. 3: Maryland U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen has joined other senators in calling for Northam to resign.
“Governor Northam: From your neighboring state across the Potomac River, please do the right thing for our region and the country -- resign,” Van Hollen wrote on Twitter. “Your actions have been unacceptable and your explanation inadequate.”
Van Hollen’s statement comes after senators from Northan’s state, Tim Kaine and Mark Varner, called for Northam to resign after the governor gave an hour-long news conference Saturday.
“I believe now and then that I am not either of the people in this photo,” Northam said at the news conference. “This was not me in that picture. That was not Ralph Northam.”
Update 6:45 p.m. EST Feb. 2: Virginia’s U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, issued a joint statement calling on Gov. Ralph Northam to resign after revelation of racist yearbook photo.
“After we watched his press conference today, we called Governor Northam to tell him that we no longer believe he can effectively serve as Governor of Virginia and that he must resign. Governor Northam has served the people of the Commonwealth faithfully for many years, but the events of the past 24 hours have inflicted immense pain and irrevocably broken the trust Virginians must have in their leaders. He should step down and allow the Commonwealth to begin healing.”
Update 3:40 p.m. EST Feb. 2: Northam did admit to “darkening” his face while dressing as Michael Jackson for a dance competition that took place during his time in the U.S. Army in San Antonio, Texas. He apologized for doing so.
Northam spoke for more than 40 minutes from the Virginia Executive Mansion, giving a written statement and answering questions. The governor further asserted he wasn’t aware that the photo was on his yearbook page; saying he didn’t buy a yearbook at the time, and that he hadn’t seen the photo until his staff showed it to him yesterday.
He offered another apology for the photo and asked for forgiveness moving forward.
“I ask Virginians to accept my word; To realize that I have made mistakes in my past; To offer forgiveness,” he said.
Update 11:20 a.m. EST Feb. 2: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to make an announcement at 2:30 p.m. EST, possibly to assert that he is not in a controversial photo from his medical school yearbook page showing one man in a Ku Klux Klan robe and another in blackface, The New York Times reported.
Several organizations and individuals, including the Virginia Democratic Party and the legislative black caucus, have called on Northam to resign. So far, Northam hasn’t made any indication that he plans to step down from his office.
Original report: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has apologized in an official statement after an offensive photo from his medical school yearbook page surfaced showing two men posing in racist garb, one man in a Ku Klux Klan robe and the other in blackface.
“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive,” Northam included in his statement.
Northam admits he is depicted in the photo, but it is unclear which man is Northam.
Later, Northam released a video statement and said he would be “committed to continuing that fight through the remainder of my term and living up to the expectations you set for me when you elected me to serve.”
The Virginian-Pilot, based in Norfolk, Virginia, released a photo of a 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page that features photos of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on the same page as a photo of one man in a Ku Klux Klan robe and the another man in blackface.
In one of the photos of Northam, he is wearing a suit, in the other photo, he is leaning against a convertible. The page lists his undergraduate alma mater and his interest as pediatrics.
The Virginian-Pilot said it obtained the page from the medical school’s library.
If Northam were to resign, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is African-American, would assume the governor’s office.
Republican state Sen. Bryce Reeves said in a statement that Northam should resign if the reports of the photos are accurate.
“I hope that this picture is inaccurate and that the Governor brings clarity to this issue. This has no place in Virginia,” Reeves said.
The photos, which were confirmed by Associated Press, were first published by the conservative news outlet Big League Politics.
Last week, Florida’s secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.