Virginia’s Fairfax faces impeachment push
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 oneon-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.
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!”