Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax issued a forceful pre-dawn denial on Monday to an allegation of sexual assault that surfaced after 15 years, in the latest political bombshell to rock Richmond where Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is battling resignation calls over a racist photo from his medical school yearbook.
Fairfax, who would be next in line for governor should Northam bow to pressure and resign, called the allegation “defamatory” and “false.”
“Lt. Governor Fairfax has an outstanding and well-earned reputation for treating people with dignity and respect,” the statement from his office read. “He has never assaulted anyone—ever—in any way, shape, or form.”
The allegation was first posted by Big League Politics, the same political blog that published the now-infamous yearbook photo showing someone in blackface and someone in a KKK costume, from Northam's 1984 yearbook page. Despite initially apologizing for appearing in the photo, he now denies either of the individuals is him.
The blog, in the post that prompted Fairfax's denial, claimed that a fellow at Stanford University said a man sexually assaulted her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Mass.
“Imagine you were sexually assaulted during the DNC Convention in Boston in 2004 by a campaign staffer. You spend the next 13 years trying to forget it ever happened. Until one day you find out he’s the Democratic candidate for statewide office in a state some 3000 miles away, and he wins that election in November 2017,” a post from the reported accuser said, according to the blog. “Then, by strange, horrible luck, it seems increasingly likely that he’ll get a VERY BIG promotion.”
She did not name Fairfax, but the report implied she was referring to the lieutenant governor, who then responded to it.
But in his denial, Fairfax explained that the accuser “first approached the Washington Post” over a year ago, prior to his inauguration in 2018.
“The Post carefully investigated the claim for several months,” Fairfax’s office said in a statement. “After being presented with facts consistent with the Lt. Governor’s denial of the allegation, the absence of any evidence corroborating the allegation, and significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegation, the Post made the considered decision not to publish the story.”
Fairfax’s office added: “Tellingly, not one other reputable media outlet has seen fit to air this false claim. Only now, at a time of intense media attention surrounding Virginia politics, has this false claim been raised again.”
“The Lt. Governor will take appropriate legal action against those attempting to spread this defamatory and false allegation,” the statement read.
The denial comes amid a political firestorm in Virginia, as a photo of the governor emerged showing a man in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan garb in his 1984 medical school yearbook.
Northam, on Saturday, denied being in the photo, despite admitting to being in the picture a day earlier, and instead acknowledged darkening his face for another occasion that same year, when he dressed as singer Michel Jackson as part of a talent contest.
He explained that he initially admitted to being in the photo, but “in the hours since I made my statement, I reflected with family and classmates from that time and it affirmed my conclusion that I am not the person in that photograph.”
Northam called the image “offensive” and “racist,” but said he had nothing to do with the preparation of the yearbook and did not purchase it.
Northam asserted repeatedly over the weekend that he would not resign from his post, despite a wave of criticism from 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, Democratic lawmakers and Republicans demanding he leave office.
If Northam did agree to resign from his post, Fairfax would assume the governorship. Over the weekend, Fairfax condemned the racist photo and said he "cannot condone the actions from his past."
The photo resurfaced after Northam sparked outrage last week with comments about a controversial abortion bill that one sponsor had said could allow women to terminate a pregnancy up until the moment before birth.
Northam, a former pediatric neurologist, was asked about those comments and said that third-trimester abortions are done with “the consent of obviously the mother, with consent of the physician, multiple physicians by the way, and it’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities or there may be a fetus that is not viable.”
“So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother,” Northam said last week.
Conservative commentators and Republican lawmakers took the remarks to mean that Northam was discussing the possibility of letting a newborn die—or even "infanticide."
Northam defended his comments, saying they were limited to actions physicians may take in the case of “tragic or difficult circumstances” such as a non-viable pregnancy or “severe fetal abnormalities.” He later tweeted that he had “devoted his life to caring for children and any insinuation otherwise is shameful and disgusting.”
On Sunday night, Northam had an unscheduled meeting with key staff members, and The Washington Post reported that resignation is an active consideration. The paper reported that there is another meeting set for Monday.
Northam reportedly spent much of Sunday inside his home meeting with close advisers who—to at least some degree—have differing opinions on how to proceed. Some want the governor to fight through and work to rebuild his image. Pam Northam, the state’s first lady, wants her husband to continue to fight, the paper reported, citing two sources.
Fox News' Adam Shaw, Eddie DeMarche and The Associated Press contributed to this report.