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Virginia Democratic Lawmaker Moves to Consider Impeaching Justin Fairfax

Virginia Democratic Lawmaker Moves to Consider Impeaching Justin Fairfax
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Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of Virginia last week. A draft resolution sent Sunday asks a committee to determine whether allegations of sexual assault against Mr. Fairfax “constitute conduct sufficient to provide grounds for impeachment.”CreditCreditLogan Cyrus/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

RICHMOND, Va. — A Democratic lawmaker in Virginia on Sunday sent his colleagues a draft resolution that would begin impeachment proceedings against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is facing multiple allegations of sexual assault.

The resolution directs a House committee to determine whether allegations of sexual assault against Mr. Fairfax by two women, Meredith Watson and Vanessa C. Tyson, “constitute conduct sufficient to provide grounds for impeachment.”

In an email accompanying the draft, the lawmaker, Delegate Patrick A. Hope, emphasized that the resolution “is not impeachment. It is a process to investigate whether the Courts Committee would recommend impeachment.”

Mr. Hope declined to comment about the draft on Sunday night, saying only that discussions with colleagues are underway. Mr. Hope had said on Friday evening that he would introduce articles of impeachment on Monday if Mr. Fairfax, a fellow Democrat, had not resigned by then.

Virginia Democrats, who are reeling from more than a week of extraordinary turmoil, are caught in a tough bind after the state’s governor and attorney general both admitted to wearing blackface as young men.

[Get caught up on the scandals that are upending Virginia politics.]

Impeachment proceedings against Mr. Fairfax would be fraught with political risks. Many Democrats have called for Mr. Fairfax to resign over the assault allegations. But some Democrats are wary of impeaching the lieutenant governor, who is black, while sparing the governor and attorney general, who are white and have resisted calls to step down after admitting to racist conduct.

The Democrats also do not hold a majority in the House and are thus not free to set the agenda.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Fairfax said that while he was “aggressively exploring options for a thorough, independent and impartial investigation,” an impeachment proceeding was “an inherently political process” that would not present “the most likely path for learning the truth.”

As Mr. Hope was poised to introduce his resolution against Mr. Fairfax, a lawyer for one of the accusers, Ms. Watson, shared Facebook messages from early 2017 providing more details about Ms. Watson’s accusation against the lieutenant governor.

In the messages provided by the lawyer, Ms. Watson told a friend who also knew Mr. Fairfax that she had not reported her allegation of assault against him to officials at Duke University in 2000 because it had brushed aside her complaint a year earlier about an assault by another student.

“I just kept my mouth shut and have slowly died from the pain ever since,” Ms. Watson said in one message.

In the exchange, she also alleged that because Mr. Fairfax knew how the earlier assault complaint had been handled, he said he targeted her “on purpose” because “he knew I’d be too scared” to report another assault.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Fairfax, who has denied the rape allegations by both women, said the claim contained in the Facebook messages that he raped a woman because she had been raped before by another student was “illogical.”

“In what world does that make sense,” said the spokeswoman, Lauren Burke.

A childhood friend of Ms. Watson, the Washington attorney R. Stanton Jones, said Sunday night that Ms. Watson had confided in him in 2001 that she had been raped by two men in college but that she did not disclose Mr. Fairfax’s name.

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Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia in Richmond this month. In an interview with “CBS This Morning,” he vowed to resist the growing calls for his resignation — including from high-ranking fellow Democrats — by staying in office.CreditParker Michels-Boyce for The New York Times

Mr. Jones, a partner at the law firm Arnold & Porter, said he was coming forward because “it seems like the right thing to do.”

The prospects of any one of Virginia’s top three leaders willingly resigning seemed to recede as the weekend wore on. Mr. Fairfax, who has denied the allegations and described the sexual encounters at the center of the claims as “consensual,” released a statement on Saturday night calling for an investigation and citing the need for “due process.”

And on Sunday morning, the governor, Ralph Northam, remained firm in his intention to stay in office and stopped short of calling for the resignations of either of his fellow scandal-plagued Democratic leaders.

In an interview with “CBS This Morning,” Mr. Northam said he was “not going anywhere” and instead would work as governor to “take action with policy to address” inequities in Virginia.

Asked about his two besieged colleagues — Mr. Fairfax and Mark R. Herring, the attorney general, who admitted to wearing blackface as a college student in the 1980s — Mr. Northam said that they “have all grown” over the last week, and that the decisions on whether to resign would have to be made by the men themselves.

The governor endorsed Mr. Fairfax’s proposal, made in a statement, to have the F.B.I. investigate the claims of sexual assault. “I really think where we are now, we need to get to the truth,” he said.

In the interview, he also said he was dedicated to continuing the work of racial progress, pointing out that the state is 400 years from the moment “the first indentured servants from Africa” landed in Virginia.

At that point the interviewer, Gayle King, chimed in: “Also known as slavery.”

It has been more than a week since a photograph showing men in blackface and a Ku Klux Klan outfit on Mr. Northam’s medical school yearbook page came to light. Nearly every day since has provided an unforeseen twist.

The governor, who initially apologized for appearing in the photo and appeared to be on the verge of resigning, has since insisted it is not him in the picture.

Mr. Fairfax, who a week ago seemed almost certain to take the governor’s place, now appears to be in political danger. And unlike the governor and attorney general, who had both remained in seclusion until Mr. Northam emerged this weekend for a pair of interviews, Mr. Fairfax must show up each day this week to a Capitol teeming with reporters to fulfill his duties as president of the State Senate.

Despite Mr. Fairfax’s and Mr. Northam’s vows to remain in office, it is not clear how much support they can regain. Appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation” after clips of the interview with Mr. Northam were played, two Democratic members of Virginia’s congressional delegation, Representatives Jennifer Wexton and Don Beyer, said they still believed that Mr. Northam and Mr. Fairfax should step down.

“I don’t believe he can effectively lead the commonwealth at this time,” Ms. Wexton said of the governor. Of Mr. Fairfax, she said, “I believe the lieutenant governor will do the right thing for Virginia and resign.”

Neither representative called for the resignation of Mr. Herring, contrasting his “heartfelt” apology and outreach to African-American leaders with Mr. Northam’s peculiar response, first apologizing for being in the photo and then insisting it was not him. They also dismissed Mr. Fairfax’s calls for an investigation, describing the accusations against him as “extremely credible.”

Ms. Wexton and Mr. Beyer were not the only politicians to weigh in on the scandals in Virginia on Sunday morning. Shortly before their appearances, President Trump chimed in on Twitter, apparently alluding to the political awkwardness of scandals that may take down the black lieutenant governor while leaving in place the white governor and attorney general, who have both admitted to wearing blackface.

“African Americans are very angry at the double standard on full display in Virginia!” the president tweeted, before going on to declare that “the Virginia disaster” had been one part of “a very bad week for the Democrats.”

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Virginia Lawmaker Takes Step Toward Impeaching Lieutenant Governor

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