Across Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia House Republicans have announced plans to hold a meeting where Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and the two women who have accused him of sexual assault can testify. Republican Del. Rob Bell said Friday that the House Courts of Justice Committee plans to invite Vanessa Tyson, Meredith Watson and Fairfax for a “chance to be heard” at an unnamed future hearing date. The two women have recently come forward with allegations that Fairfax, a Democrat, sexually assaulted them years ago. Both women have criticized the General Assembly’s handling of their allegations. Fairfax has denied both accusations and said the matters should be investigated by law enforcement authorities. Friday’s announcement is likely to set off a fierce partisan brawl, as Democrats have strongly resisted calls for the General Assembly to investigate.

BRISTOL, Va. (AP) — Authorities say a woman hid her mother’s decomposing body inside their Virginia home for weeks, covering it with dozens of blankets and surrounding it with air fresheners to mask the smell.

News outlets report that 55-year-old Jo-Whitney Outland was charged with felony concealment of a body. Bristol police detective Sgt. Steve Crawford says the investigation began Monday when Outland’s relatives were concerned about 78-year-old Rosemary Outland. Investigators believe Rosemary Outland died in late December.

Crawford says authorities discovered the body propped up in a chair and covered with more than 50 blankets and pieces of clothing and over 60 air fresheners. He says medical examiners will confirm the identification and cause of death.

Jo-Whitney Outland told WJHL-TV on Thursday afternoon that she had covered her mother’s body out of respect.

Photo: Richmond Animal Care and Control

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Officials at a Virginia animal shelter say a dog was set on fire at a city park and suffered burns to over 40 percent of its body. Richmond Animal Care and Control says in a Facebook post that the male brindle pit bull was tied to a pole in a city park, covered in accelerant and set on fire Sunday night. It says witnesses saw a man wearing multiple layers of pants run from the scene. The shelter says the dog, which has been named Tommie, is being treated at Virginia Veterinary Centers. Shelter officials asked the public for any information that could identify the person responsible. They say not many cases rattle the shelter’s staff, but Tommie’s makes them “want to just sit on the floor and cry.”

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) — A Virginia city’s penalty of jail time for teenage trick-or-treaters has scared up some ridicule and a possible policy change. The Chesapeake City Council is set to vote Tuesday on an amendment to a 50-year-old law that threatens teens with up to six months in jail if they go door-to-door in pursuit of candy on Oct. 31. The Virginian-Pilot reports no teens have ever actually been arrested under the ordinance. But it made news last Halloween, ending up parodied on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Mayor Rick West says the town’s sudden infamy left him sleepless. The amendment would eliminate the jail penalty. Trick-or-treating past the age of 12 instead would carry fines of up to $250, as would violating the 8 p.m. curfew. The proposed policy mirrors that of neighboring cities.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam told his top staff Friday that he is not going to resign over the racist photo that has roiled state politics, despite intense pressure to step down, according to a top administration official. Northam called a Cabinet meeting Friday afternoon to announce his intention to stay, the official said. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The announcement comes at the end of an unprecedented week in Virginia history that has seen the state’s three top Democrats embroiled in potentially career-ending scandals.

The tumult began last Friday afternoon, when Northam’s medical school yearbook page surfaced with a picture of one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe. Northam immediately apologized for appearing in the photograph, saying he could not “undo the harm my behavior caused then and today.” Most of the Democratic establishment called for his resignation by the end of the day.

On Saturday, though, the governor reversed course and said he wasn’t in the picture. He said he wasn’t going to resign immediately because he owed it to the people of Virginia to start a discussion about race and discrimination and listen to the pain he had caused. “I believe this moment can be the first small step to open a discussion about these difficult issues,” Northam said. But the governor left his long-term plans open, saying he would reassess his decision not to resign if it became clear he had no viable path forward.

The pressure on Northam reached a crescendo Saturday when almost the entire Virginia Democratic establishment, as well as nearly every Democratic presidential hopeful, called on him to resign. That pressure has tapered off as a cascade of scandals involving top politicians has rocked the state.

California college professor Vanessa Tyson publicly accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex on him at a hotel in 2004 during the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Fairfax, who would replace Northam if he resigned, has cast the allegations as a political smear. And Attorney General Mark Herring — in line to become governor if Northam and Fairfax resign — admitted putting on blackface in the 1980s, when he was a college student. Herring had previously called on Northam to resign and came forward after rumors about the existence of a blackface photo of him began circulating at the Capitol.

Although the Democratic Party has taken almost a zero-tolerance approach to misconduct among its members in this #MeToo era, a housecleaning in Virginia could be costly: If all three Democrats resigned, Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox would become governor.

Northam’s decision to stay in office comes despite many fellow Democrats in Virginia and beyond reiterating their calls for him to resign as recently as Friday. Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a 2020 presidential hopeful, said Friday that he still thinks Northam should step down. “I think it dredges up very hurtful, painful things from the past. … I think he’s betrayed the public trust, and he should resign,” Booker said in response to a reporter’s question during an appearance in Iowa.

And in statements Thursday night, the state legislature’s Black Caucus and Virginia’s Democratic congressional delegation reiterated calls for the governor to step down, while the state House Democrats — who also previously called for Northam’s resignation — said they remain disappointed in him.

In a positive sign for Northam, even before he announced his plan to stay in the job, a lawmaker from Virginia’s Democratic-leaning D.C. suburbs said Friday he won’t call on the besieged governor to resign. “I will not request the Governor’s resignation,” State Sen. Chap Petersen, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Nor will I request any other official to resign until it is obvious that they have committed a crime in office or their ability to serve is irredeemably compromised.” There has also been little appetite among lawmakers to use official means to force him out. Cox, the House speaker, himself said Monday that there was “a rightful hesitation” among lawmakers to seek Northam’s impeachment or removal. He called on Northam to resign, saying “that would obviously be less pain for everyone.”

Regarding the allegation against Fairfax, the district attorney’s office in Boston declined to say whether it is investigating. Under Massachusetts law, the statute of limitations is 15 years for rape and several related crimes, an interval that would expire this summer for the woman’s accusation.___

Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston and Thomas Beaumont in Mason City, Iowa, contributed to this report.

Mark Herring

Statement from Attorney General Mark Herring:

“The very bright light that is shining on Virginia right now is sparking a painful but, I think we all hope, important conversation. The stakes are high, and our spirits are low.

“I am sure we all have done things at one time or another in our lives that show poor judgment, and worse yet, have caused some level of pain to others. I have a glaring example from my past that I have thought about with deep regret in the many years since, and certainly each time I took a step forward in public service, realizing that my goals and this memory could someday collide and cause pain for people I care about, those who stood with me in the many years since, or those who I hoped to serve while in office.

“In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song. It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes – and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others – we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup.

“This was a onetime occurrence and I accept full responsibility for my conduct.

That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others. It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then.

Eastern Virginia Medical School is hiring an outside law firm to lead an independent investigation into past practices involving the school’s yearbooks. College President Richard Homan acknowledges the photo on Governor Northam’s 1984 page is not the only racist one found in their yearbooks over the years. WFIR’s Evan Jones has the story:

02-06 EVMS Response Wrap1-WEB

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The president of a medical school in Virginia has apologized for the pain inflicted on African Americans by a racist photo that appeared on a yearbook page belonging to Gov. Ralph Northam. Dr. Richard V. Homan told reporters Tuesday that Eastern Virginia Medical School takes full responsibility for the image and others that appeared in the 1984 publication. A photo on Northam’s yearbook profile shows a man in blackface standing next to someone in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood. At least two other photos in the yearbook show people in blackface. Northam has denied he’s in the photo or that he submitted it for publication. Homan said an independent investigation will try to get to the bottom of how the images got there and will review all yearbooks.

Photo: Eastern Virginia Medical School

(Associated Press) — The denunciations began within hours of the disclosure that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page featured a person in blackface standing next to a person in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Democratic activists and presidential contenders quickly called for his resignation. By the time the Democratic governor held a press conference to defend himself, both the national and state party had also demanded he leave.

Northam has refused to step down so far — he says he’s not in the photo. But the pressure he faces highlights his party’s insistence on policing its own when it comes to wrongdoing related to race and, in some cases, sexual misconduct. As the Republican Party has frequently shied away from disciplining or expelling its own members, Democrats have largely embraced a hard line.

That stance allows Democrats to draw a stark contrast with President Donald Trump and other Republicans who have made racist or sexist remarks. It’s also a response to the demands of an increasingly diverse Democratic Party whose staunchest supporters are African-Americans and women, whose last president was a black man and who has two black people, one Latino and several women running for president.

“We can’t call out Donald Trump, we can’t call out Steve King, if we’re not walking the talk,” said Karine Jean-Pierre of MoveOn, a group founded in the late ’90s to fight impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton over his affair with a White House intern.

The contrast with King, an Iowa Republican congressman, is one Democrats are eager to make. King had a long history of controversial rhetoric about immigrants, but it wasn’t until he defended white supremacy in an interview with The New York Times last month that Republicans in Congress moved to strip him of committee assignments and called for his resignation.

Looming even larger is Trump, who fanned the racist conspiracy that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States, said a federal judge couldn’t rule on a lawsuit against him because he was “Mexican,” has been accused of sexual wrongdoing by 19 women and reportedly used a profanity to describe countries that send black immigrants to the U.S.

When it comes to Trump, a 72-year-old white New York billionaire, contrast is everything for Democrats. On Tuesday, they’ll answer his State of the Union address with a response from Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, a 45-year-old who narrowly lost her bid last year to become America’s first black female governor. They’ll invite guests who represent key Democratic agenda items — climate and the environment, immigration, LBGTQ rights, the plight of federal workers — to watch from the gallery.

The distinction from Trump is especially crucial for Democratic presidential contenders. All the declared candidates — and most of those eyeing a campaign — called on Northam to resign. There have been precious few Northam defenders, but a handful argue he is being prejudged. Former Virginia Rep. Jim Moran decried “a rush to judgment” on CNN on Monday, while former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman told the cable network that Northam “has a chance to prove what is his essence, not to rush him out of office for what is, unfortunately, political reasons.”

Some Democrats bristle at the notion that politics played any role in the revulsion at Northam. “Booting electeds from office who have worn blackface is not about purity,” said Rebecca Katz, a Democratic strategist. “It’s about what’s right.”

The last prominent elected Democrat pushed out of office by his own party was Al Franken, the Minnesota senator who resigned after weeks of internal pressure over sexual harassment allegations in 2017. The Franken departure came as Democrats were still smarting over Trump’s election in the face of numerous sexual harassment and assault allegations. He was replaced in the Senate by another Democrat, Tina Smith, who was overwhelmingly re-elected in November.

Similarly, Democrats lose nothing by jettisoning Northam because they’d maintain control of the governor’s mansion: The next in line is Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.

But the Virginia turmoil also illustrated the complications of the zero-tolerance approach.

Fairfax on Monday strongly denied allegations of sexual assault that were initially circulated on a conservative website, calling it a “smear.”

The woman accusing Fairfax has retained Washington, D.C., law firm Katz Marshall & Banks and is consulting with the firm about next steps, said a person close to the legal team who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. One of the firm’s founding partners, Debra Katz, represented Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her decades ago when they were teenagers. Kavanaugh denied the allegation and later was confirmed to the court.

The Associated Press is not reporting details of the Fairfax allegation because the AP has not confirmed it.

If Northam were to resign and Fairfax were not in position to assume the office, the governorship would go to the Democratic attorney general, a set of dominoes that has unleashed chaos in Virginia’s capital.

Democratic presidential aspirants were notably silent on Fairfax. The party also stood with Keith Ellison as the then-congressman successfully ran for Minnesota attorney general last year despite allegations that he had abused an ex-girlfriend. Ellison also strongly denied those accusations.

In a sign of the crosscurrents Democrats are navigating, multiple liberals asked not to be quoted when discussing the contrast because they were skeptical of the allegations but did not want to be seen as disbelieving people who reported sexual misbehavior.

Sexual harassment allegations have also rattled the potential presidential field. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is mulling a second presidential run, apologized to staffers for sexual harassment allegedly committed by workers on his 2016 presidential campaign. On Saturday, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, another possible Democratic contender, apologized for not stopping a staffer he fired for sexual harassment from landing a job in the New York mayor’s office.

Still, the Northam case stands out, said Guy Cecil, head of Priorities USA, a major Democratic super PAC and one of the Democrats who immediately called for Northam’s ouster when the yearbook photo first appeared.

“There’s no question that we need to be thoughtful about when we’re approaching these big questions, but I don’t think we’re nearing some sort of tipping point when we say a man who dressed in blackface in the ’80s shouldn’t be governor,” Cecil said.

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Associated Press writer Julie Pace contributed to this story from Washington.