Vir­ginia’s Fair­fax fo­cus of im­peach­ment move

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WASHINGTON — Vir­ginia Demo­cratic law­mak­ers on Sun­day cir­cu­lated a draft res­o­lu­tion to be­gin the im­peach­ment process against Lt. Gov. Justin Fair­fax, who faces two al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault.

The push against Fair­fax, a Demo­crat, came hours af­ter CBS re­leased ex­cerpts of Gov. Ralph Northam’s first one-on-one TV in­ter­view since the rev­e­la­tion of a racially in­sen­si­tive year­book photo that threat­ens to de­rail his gov­er­nor­ship. Northam said he’s “not go­ing any­where” but that Fair­fax may have to re­sign.

The lieu­tenant gover­nor has fended off calls from leg­is­la­tors and the state Demo­cratic Party to re­sign af­ter two women pub­licly came for­ward last week to ac­cuse him of sex­ual as­sault. Fair­fax said the en­coun­ters — one in 2000 and the other in 2004 — were con­sen­sual, and he has char­ac­ter­ized the al­le­ga­tions as a smear cam­paign against him.

He has said re­peat­edly that he will not step down and that he wants the FBI or oth­ers to in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions.

Shortly af­ter the sec­ond

● woman came for­ward Fri­day, Del. Pa­trick Hope, a Demo­crat, said he would in­tro­duce ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment if Fair­fax did not re­sign by to­day.

A vote on the mea­sure, which could come as early as Tues­day, would di­rect the House Com­mit­tee for Courts of Jus­tice to hold hear­ings on the al­le­ga­tions against Fair­fax, with the sup­port of leg­isla­tive staff mem­bers and state agen­cies. Such an in­ves­ti­ga­tion would be the pre­cur­sor to the com­mit­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tion on im­peach­ment and a vote of the full House.

Hope on Sun­day af­ter­noon emailed a draft of a res­o­lu­tion that would ini­ti­ate im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings to his Demo­cratic col­leagues for re­view.

“Whereas the House of Del­e­gates be­lieves all al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault must be taken with the ut­most se­ri­ous­ness; and whereas the House of Del­e­gates be­lieves the al­le­ga­tions made by Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Ms. Mered­ith Wat­son [Fair­fax’s ac­cusers] to be cred­i­ble in na­ture, while also re­spect­ing the prin­ci­ples of due process; now, there­fore, be it re­solved by the House of Del­e­gates that pro­ceed­ings for the im­peach­ment of Lieu­tenant Gover­nor Justin E. Fair­fax shall be ini­ti­ated,” the draft res­o­lu­tion says.

In his email to col­leagues, Hope stressed that he is call­ing for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, not di­rectly call­ing for Fair­fax’s im­peach­ment.

“It is not im­peach­ment,” Hope em­pha­sized in the email. “It is a process to in­ves­ti­gate whether the Courts Com­mit­tee would rec­om­mend im­peach­ment.”

Hope said the tim­ing of in­tro­duc­ing the res­o­lu­tion is un­der dis­cus­sion with leg­isla­tive lead­ers.

A spokesman for Fair­fax had no im­me­di­ate com­ment on the res­o­lu­tion.

It’s un­clear how much sup­port there is for an im­peach­ment ef­fort in the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Gen­eral As­sem­bly. Aides to House Speaker Kirk­land Cox, a Repub­li­can, and House Mi­nor­ity Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, a Demo­crat, who have both urged Fair­fax to re­sign, did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Repub­li­can Del. Robert Bell, who chairs the Courts Com­mit­tee, also did not im­me­di­ately re­turn a call seek­ing com­ment.

Com­mit­tee mem­ber Del. Mar­cus Si­mon, a Demo­crat, said there are se­ri­ous ques­tions about the House’s abil­ity to con­duct an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the al­le­ga­tions, in­clud­ing whether it could com­pel wit­nesses to tes­tify and could sub­poena doc­u­ments.

“There are process ques­tions,” Si­mon said. “Whether this is the right move or not po­lit­i­cally, we have to fig­ure out whether we are do­ing this right or not.”

State Sen. Richard Saslaw, who leads the Sen­ate Demo­cratic Cau­cus, said he op­poses at­tempts to im­peach the lieu­tenant gover­nor and did not ex­pect them to gain trac­tion.

“Im­peach­ment im­plies high crimes and mis­de­meanors while you are in of­fice; that’s what it’s for,” Saslaw said.

Tyson and Wat­son, who have sep­a­rate le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, have in­di­cated through their lawyers that they are will­ing to tes­tify dur­ing im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings.

GOVER­NOR’S DE­FENSE

Northam, mean­while, pre­pared for CBS to re­lease a full in­ter­view to­day in which he de­fends his abil­ity to lead.

“Right now, Vir­ginia needs some­one that can heal. There’s no bet­ter per­son to do that than a doc­tor,” Northam, a pe­di­atric neu­rol­o­gist, said in an in­ter­view with jour­nal­ist Gayle King, ex­cerpts of which were aired at the start of CBS’ Face the Na­tion on Sun­day. The full in­ter­view will air on CBS This Morn­ing.

“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,” Northam said in the in­ter­view.

Near the be­gin­ning of the ex­cerpt in an ex­change with King, Northam noted that this year is the 400th an­niver­sary

of the first “in­den­tured ser­vants from Africa” ar­riv­ing in Vir­ginia.

King in­ter­jected: “Also known as slav­ery.”

Northam re­sponded: “Yes. While we have made a lot of progress in Vir­ginia — slav­ery has ended, schools have been de­seg­re­gated, we have ended the Jim Crow laws, eas­ier ac­cess to vot­ing — it is abun­dantly clear that we still have a lot of work to do.”

The first Africans taken to Vir­ginia were cap­tured in An­gola and trans­ported in a slave ship, but Vir­ginia did not have a for­mal le­gal sys­tem for slav­ery in 1619. There ap­pears to be some am­bi­gu­ity over their le­gal sta­tus, with some still forced to work for life while oth­ers had a path to free­dom, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Park Ser­vice.

Asked to clar­ify Northam’s re­marks, which sparked a back­lash on so­cial me­dia, a spokesman for the gover­nor pointed to news ac­counts that re­ferred to the first black Africans be­ing treated as in­den­tured ser­vants be­fore slave laws.

Northam’s at­tempts to make amends have yet to shift Demo­cratic de­mands for his res­ig­na­tion. U.S. Reps. Jen­nifer Wex­ton and Don Beyer of Vir­ginia re­it­er­ated their calls for his res­ig­na­tion in Sun­day ap­pear­ances on Face the Na­tion.

“I un­der­stand that he wants — that he’s feel­ing con­tri­tion, that he’s feel­ing re­gret. But we need some­body who — who can not only ad­dress the wrongs of the past, but take Vir­ginia into the fu­ture. And I think he’s lost the con­fi­dence of the peo­ple in or­der to be able to do that,” said Wex­ton, one of three Democrats who flipped GOP-held House seats in Vir­ginia in Novem­ber.

“I know he wants to re­ha­bil­i­tate his rep­u­ta­tion and even his sense of what he called his moral com­pass,” Beyer added. “But he sac­ri­ficed so much of his abil­ity to gov­ern ef­fec­tively.”

Two other Vir­ginia of­fi­cials are also un­der fire. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark Her­ring, a Demo­crat, ad­mit­ted to wear­ing black­face as a col­lege stu­dent when dress­ing up like rap­per Kur­tis Blow. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Leader Tommy Nor­ment, a Repub­li­can, ac­knowl­edged he was an ed­i­tor of a 1968 year­book that fea­tured racial slurs and pho­tos of stu­dents in black­face, but he said he was not re­spon­si­ble for the con­tent.

Northam said that they “have all grown” over the past week and that the de­ci­sions on whether to re­sign would have to be made by the men them­selves. But Northam said he sup­ports an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Fair­fax.

“If these ac­cu­sa­tions are de­ter­mined to be true, I don’t think he’s go­ing to have any other op­tion but to re­sign,” said Northam, who told King that he has not spo­ken to Fair­fax since the sec­ond ac­cuser went pub­lic Fri­day af­ter­noon.

The gover­nor en­dorsed Fair­fax’s pro­posal to have the FBI in­ves­ti­gate the sex­ual-as­sault al­le­ga­tions. “I re­ally think where we are now, we need to get to the truth,” Northam said.

Northam also of­fered for­give­ness for Her­ring.

“I don’t know what the at­tor­ney gen­eral was think­ing, what his per­cep­tion was of race, of — of the use of black­face back then,” Northam said to King. “But I can tell you that I am sure, just like me, he has grown. He has served Vir­ginia well, and he and I and Justin, all three of us have fought for equal­ity.”

The al­le­ga­tions against Fair­fax have placed Democrats in an un­com­fort­able po­si­tion: They are at­tempt­ing to push a ris­ing black politi­cian out of of­fice while a white gover­nor and at­tor­ney gen­eral ac­cused of racism may re­main.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­ferred to that Sun­day morn­ing, tweet­ing, “African Amer­i­cans are very an­gry at the dou­ble stan­dard on full dis­play in Vir­ginia!”

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Fenit Ni­rap­pil of

The Washington Post; by Hai­ley Waller, Erik Was­son and Meghan Gen­ovese of Bloomberg News; and by Camp­bell Robert­son of The New York Times.

Fair­fax Northam

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