Northam vows to stay in office to help Virginia 'heal,' but says Fairfax, Herring may need to resign

Embattled Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam on Sunday vowed to remain in office because "there's no better person" to help the state "heal" from the multitude of scandals rocking its leadership than a doctor with his medical school credentials.

In the same interview with "CBS This Morning," Northam, whose medical school yearbook page featured one person in blackface and another in a KKK robe, suggested that Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax should resign if the two sexual-assault allegations leveled against him are proven true.

Northam also intimated that the state's Democratic attorney general, Mark Herring, should consider stepping aside because he admitted to dressing in blackface in college.

"I'm a leader," Northam told host Gayle King. "I've been in some very difficult situations, life-and-death situations, taking care of sick children. Right now, Virginia needs someone that can heal. There's no better person to do that than a doctor."


Northam continued: "Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage, and who has a moral compass. That's why I'm not going anywhere. I have learned from this. I have a lot more to learn."

The blackface photograph reportedly was leaked earlier this month by a "concerned citizen" unhappy with Northam's comments on a local radio show that endorsed post-birth abortions in certain instances.

In an awkward moment, Northam attempted to explain to King that he was sensitive to Virginia's racist history.

"We are now at the 400-year anniversary — just 90 miles from here in 1619, the first indentured servants from Africa landed on our shores in Old Point Comfort, what we call now Fort Monroe --" Northam began.

King interrupted: "Also known as slavery."

"Virginia needs someone that can heal. There's no better person to do that than a doctor."

— Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam

Northam went on to assert that Fairfax, the next in line in Virginia's order of succession to the governorship, may need to step aside. Fairfax was hit with a second allegation of sexual assault last Friday, just days after he was accused of assaulting a separate woman at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.


Fairfax denied the newest allegation as well, labeling it "demonstrably false," but the claim swiftly inspired calls for Fairfax to resign. Multiple 2020 presidential hopefuls, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Corey Booker, D-N.J., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., demanded he step down.

"I can only imagine that it must take tremendous courage for women to step forward and talk about these things, that are just so hurtful," Northam said. " And these accusations are very, very serious. And they need to be taken seriously. Gov. Fairfax has called for an investigation. We need to get to the truth. The truth is important. If these accusations are determined to be true, I don't think he's going to have any other option but to resign."

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has faced two separate accusations of sexual assault. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has faced two separate accusations of sexual assault. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

Last week, Fairfax, when asked by a reporter, did not rule out the possibility that Northam might have been behind the leak of the first allegation, in an effort to derail his possible ascension to the governorship.

The Collective Political Action Committee (PAC), which says on its website that it works "to fix the challenge of African American underrepresentation in elected seats of power throughout our nation," issued a statement on Monday charging it had "learned through various sources that Governor Northam's team and advisors have now decided to start attacking Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax by spreading lies to reporters and state leaders in an attempt to quell support for the Lt. Governor as Governor Northam's impending successor should he resign."


Asked about the statement by the political action committee, which has supported Fairfax in the past, Fairfax did not dispute that Northam's team could be responsible.

"Collective PAC has made its statement -- you know, I don't know precisely where this is coming from, you know, we've heard different things," Fairfax said. "But here's the thing: Does anybody think it's any coincidence that on the eve of my potentially being elevated, that that's when this uncorroborated smear comes out - does anybody believe that's a coincidence? I don't think anybody believes that's a coincidence."


Separately, Northam told King that Herring, the second in line to the governorship, also needs to consider leaving the administration. The state's top law enforcement officer admitted to wearing blackface in college to imitate a rapper.

"I know Attorney General Herring well, as I do Lt. Gov. Fairfax," Northam said. "And, you know, we have all grown. I don't know what the attorney general was thinking -- what his perception was of race, of the use of blackface was back then, 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. I regret that our attorney general is in this position. But this is a decision that he's going to need to make."

But, speaking to CBS News' "Face the Nation," Democratic Virginia Rep. Don Beyer suggested Herring should stay on despite the blackface scandal, because his replacement would be a strong conservative.

"I don't think it's actually true," Beyer said, responding to critics who say Democrats are trying to circle the wagons to protect Herring for political reasons. "There are cynics who say this is about the next election. But I think it's much more about values. We would move from a progressive, very strong attorney general to someone who's not just a Republican, but who's on the arch-conservative end of it. So the way our laws would be administered in Virginia would be completely different. This isn't about party politics as much as it is about the kind of Virignia that we want."

Fox News' Matt Richardson contributed to this report.