Engulfed in his own scandal from February, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax backed Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday after a monthslong inquiry into a racist photograph could not answer who was responsible for putting it on the governor’s 1984 yearbook page.
A photograph of two people, one in blackface and the other in a KKK robe, was released by a news outlet on Feb. 1 after it was spotted on Gov. Northam’s medical school yearbook page. The image’s release prompted the president of Eastern Virginia Medical School, Dr. Richard V. Homan, to call for an investigation the next day and hire the law firm McGuireWoods.
Nearly four months after the probe began, Eastern Virginia Medical School held a press conference on Wednesday where the investigators provided their findings in a 55-page report.
According to its report, the firm was to conduct an inquiry into the school’s past yearbooks, not only Northam’s 1984 yearbook page, and “examine diversity and inclusion at the school from its inception to present day.” Multiple people, including Gov. Northam, were interviewed in the process. The governor sat down for two interviews, McGuireWoods’ report said.
The investigation from McGuireWoods “could not conclusively determine the origin” of the picture or confirm the identity of either individual. Despite this revelation, McGuireWoods found no evidence the photograph was placed on the governor’s page “in error or by any other means not at his direction.”
Fairfax, who would have taken over as governor if Northam had resigned, has felt his own pressure to step down amid sexual assault allegations from two different women he previously knew. The lieutenant governor has denied any wrongdoing — even taking part in multiple polygraph tests — and has called for a full investigation.
Lt. Gov. Fairfax’s office shared a statement with WRIC, our sister station, on Thursday:
Yesterday’s investigative report issued on behalf of the Eastern Virginia Medical School provides ample reason for the importance of our elected and party leaders not rushing to judgment based on limited initial evidence.
As a statewide official elected by a sizable majority, Governor Northam was entitled to the benefit of the doubt while all necessary facts and available information were obtained via an appropriate independent investigation. I understand we reside in a fast-paced social media world that demands instantaneous conclusions but the evaluation of long ago events often requires time to evaluate properly. I hope that this report reminds us of the importance of considered judgment, due process, and fundamental fairness. These are pillars of our democracy and our legal system.
The lack of conclusive evidence at the time was why, in my role as an elected official, I chose not to call for his resignation even though I did express serious concern about his actions. I did not and do not condone people using black face or Klan outfits. Public officials who have engaged in either must make serious, substantive, and lasting amends if they are to remain in office.
But I believed that more evidence was necessary before elected officials and party officials could properly pass judgment on decades-old events. I also believed, as an elected official representing the entire Commonwealth, that it was important to consider Governor Northam’s actions over the course of his lifetime before I should pass judgment whether he should remain our Governor. Based on what we now know, I believe the stance I took was and is appropriate to the circumstances.
During this course of this process, Governor Northam has committed himself to working to address issues related to racial inequality. I strongly encourage him to continue with those efforts. It is vitally important that we focus on serving the needs of Virginians and improving lives of the residents our Commonwealth.