Virginia Democrat Backs Off Effort to Open Impeachment Inquiry Against Fairfax


RICHMOND, Va. — A Virginia state legislator who intended to begin impeachment proceedings against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax backed off on Monday after African-American lawmakers demanded there not be a rush to oust Mr. Fairfax, who is black, over accusations of sexual assault while the state’s white governor and attorney general are refusing to resign after they admitted wearing blackface in their youth.

The failed attempt by Delegate Patrick A. Hope, the white lawmaker who was to file the impeachment legislation, demonstrated that as the scandal engulfing Virginia’s government enters its second week, it is only growing more painful for Democrats, who are having to confront three statewide officials of their own party.

Mr. Hope circulated a resolution on Sunday that would have directed 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.”

He had said on Friday evening that he would introduce articles of impeachment on Monday if Mr. Fairfax, a fellow Democrat who denies the allegations, had not resigned by then.

But Mr. Hope backed down after a Sunday night conference call among House Democrats turned heated, according to two Democrats directly familiar with the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss party matters. Mr. Hope said on Twitter on Monday that discussions with his colleagues had “led to additional conversations that need to take place before anything is filed.”

In a television interview, Governor Northam said that he would not resign and that he was best suited to help Virginia “heal” because he is a doctor. Mr. Northam has faced calls to resign after a racist yearbook photo surfaced.CreditCreditParker Michels-Boyce for The New York Times

Members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, who have been agonizing over what to do regarding all three of the state’s executives for over a week now, believe the claims against Mr. Fairfax should be litigated in a legal setting, not a political venue.

And they are furious at Mr. Hope over what they see as his haste and his making an already excruciating dilemma even more painful by trying to force them to take a public position on impeachment this week, according to a Virginia Democrat directly familiar with the call.

Delegate Lamont Bagby, the chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, said in an interview Monday that it was important for Democrats to find “the proper avenue” to investigate the claims against Mr. Fairfax.

“I think that’s what the accusers want, and the accused wants,” said Mr. Bagby, adding: “I think that’s what everyone needs, that’s what the commonwealth deserves and that’s what the accusers deserve.”

For his part, Mr. Hope was not abandoning his plans to pursue impeachment entirely, but said in a statement that he “was open to other avenues” to investigating the allegations.

Around 11:30 a.m., Mr. Fairfax entered the legislative building and, making his way up the stairs to the Senate chambers through a raucous scrum of TV cameras, he simply repeated that he had “called for an independent investigation,” adding: “I am still very confident in the truth.” And then he went back to work.

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