The law firm investigating the origin and content of a racist picture of a man in blackface standing next to someone in Ku Klux Klan garb -- a photo that was placed on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook page -- said Wednesday that investigators were unable to determine whether the governor is seen in the photo or has any other connection to it.
Working on behalf of Eastern Virginia Medical School, McGuireWoods investigators said Wednesday they couldn't "conclusively determine" the identities of either person in the 35-year-old photo -- leaving all interested parties exactly where they were when the scandal first broke nearly four months ago.
The photo from the 1984 yearbook first gained attention after a conservative blog, Big League Politics, dug it up. The backlash was swift against the Democratic governor -- who initially apologized for being in the photo and then later said he was not either of the men in the pic. But even as the calls for his resignation grew louder, Northam offered no hints he'd consider bowing out of office.
When scandals soon enveloped the state's lieutenant governor and attorney general -- the men, in order of succession, who would have been in line to be governor if Northam resigned -- Northam's foothold in the governor's mansion became far more secure. In a flood of information, it was revealed that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring wore blackface in college and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has been accused of sexual assault by two women.
"We could not conclusively determine the identity of either individual depicted in that photograph," attorney Richard Cullen, who led the investigation, told reporters.
Northam initially issued two apologies within hours of the publication of the photo. He reversed course the next day and said he wasn’t convinced he was one of the men pictured. He did, however, reveal he wore blackface once, decades ago, to look like Michael Jackson for a dance contest.
Investigators said the governor made multiple "conflicting statements," but no individual with knowledge could tell them if Northam was in the yearbook photo nor came forward to say if they knew it was him.
The report included interviews with 52 people, that included current and former staff, students of EVMS. Northam was interviewed twice, while the first lady of Virginia was also interviewed in addition to other staff members. At least one former student declined to be interviewed when asked, officials said Wednesday.
The governor initially apologized to for being in the yearbook picture out of an abundance of caution, according to investigators. Investigators said Northam didn't believe he was in the photo when he first saw it but did not want to issue an immediate denial in case someone would contradict him.
"The best we can conclude is that he erred on the side of caution initially and immediately regretted not having denied," Cullen told reporters.
The 36-page report from McGuireWoods found no one “with first-hand knowledge of an actual mistake on any page, including any personal page, within the 1984 yearbook” and no evidence that the photo was placed in error, according to the report. The report also identified 10 photographs depicting individuals in blackface based on the law firm’s review of all EVMS yearbooks, according to the school.
"The yearbooks repeatedly contained other content that could be offensive to minorities, women and other ethnic groups," attorney Ben Hatch told reporters, adding that it continued over a course of yearbooks that were less frequent in later years.
EVMS President Richard Homan said the investigation was meant to "maintain the public’s trust and ensure an independent and objective assessment of the past."
"We knew we needed outside assistance," he said.
"The Republican Party of Virginia's call for Ralph Northam's resignation is unwavering. Ralph Northam admitted to wearing blackface and embarrassed our Commonwealth on an international scale. Only one person has confessed to being in the racist photograph, and that person is Ralph Northam," Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Jack Wilson said. "Ralph Northam does not represent Virginia. Virginia will not tolerate racism. Virginia will not tolerate another day of Ralph Northam's so-called leadership. For the good of the Commonwealth, Ralph Northam needs to resign today."
After resisting resignation, Northam said he wanted to focus his remaining three years in office on racial inequities. He's received praise from black lawmakers for halting suspensions of driver’s licenses for motorists with unpaid court fines, and for reviewing how the nation’s fraught racial history is taught in Virginia public schools.
In a statement on Wednesday, Northam said he has cooperated with Cullen and team during their investigation, "both by making myself available for interviews and by turning over the findings of my private inquiry into the matter.
"I am not in the racist and offensive photo that appears under my name in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook," the governor said. “That being said, I know and understand the events of early February and my response to them have caused hurt for many Virginians and for that, I am sorry. I felt it was important to take accountability for the photo’s presence on my page, but rather than providing clarity, I instead deepened pain and confusion."
Northam added that in visits with local leaders across the state, he has "engaged in frank and necessary dialogue" on how to enact progress on issues of "equity and better focus our administration’s efforts for the remainder of my term."
"That conversation will continue, with ensuing action, and I am committed to working to build a better and more equitable Virginia for all who call it home," Northam added.
The photo on Northam's 1984 yearbook page was one of three that year that contained blackface depictions. School leaders called it “shockingly abhorrent” and commissioned an investigation into past yearbooks and the school’s culture at the time.
Dr. Giac Chan Nguyen-Tan, a physician practicing in Connecticut, said earlier this year that a page he laid out for the yearbook was changed before publication without his knowledge.
Fox News' Ellison Barber, Garrett Tenney, Louis Casiano and The Associated Press contributed to this report.