RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) – Virginia Governor Ralph Northam made his first public appearance on Saturday since defying calls a week ago to step down over a racist yearbook photograph, as his potential successor, a fellow Democrat, faced growing pressure over sexual assault allegations.
FILE PHOTO: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, accompanied by his wife Pamela Northam announces he will not resign during a news conference Richmond, Virginia, U.S. February 2, 2019. REUTERS/ Jay Paul
Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, the state’s second-highest elected official, faces the prospect of impeachment proceedings at the hands of another Democrat next week after two women separately accused him of sexual crimes, including rape.
Fairfax has denied both claims and called them a “coordinated smear campaign.” He has been as defiant as Northam in refusing to step down. Northam’s own troubles began when a racist image from his medical school yearbook went public on Feb. 1.
After staying out of sight since he faced the press on Feb. 2 to deny he was pictured in a blatantly racist photo on his yearbook page, but admitting that he had worn blackface on another occasion, Northam, 59, returned to the public eye to attend the funeral of a slain state trooper.
Before leaving for the service in Chilhowie, a small town in the state’s rural southwest corner, Northam doubled down on his determination to stay in office, pledging to promote racial reconciliation in the remaining three years of his term.
“It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post on Saturday. “There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity.”
He told the Post that conversations this week with black state lawmakers, who are among those calling for him to resign, helped him better understand the history and hurtfulness of blackface, which he admitted using in 1984 to portray Michael Jackson at a dance contest.
The governor also said in the interview that he would take “a harder line” on moving the state’s Confederate monuments, which have become lightning rods for racial division, from public property into museums.
The week’s political chaos surrounding the state’s top two elected officials stretched down to the second-in-line to succeed Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring, 57, who admitted that he, too, had once darkened his face to imitate a black performer.
The possibility of all three top-ranked leaders of Virginia’s executive branch having to resign raised the prospect of Democrats losing the governorship to the Republican speaker of the state House of Delegates, who is next in the line of succession.
It also has stirred Democrats’ concerns that political discord in Virginia, a key swing state in presidential elections, could flip it back into the Republican column in the 2020 White House race.
Despite the calls on Northam to step down, greater pressure was focused on Fairfax, after a state House member, Patrick Hope, declared on Friday that he would introduce articles of impeachment on Monday unless the lieutenant governor resigns.
Fairfax, 39, has insisted his encounter with a woman who has accused him of forcing himself on her sexually in Boston in 2004 was entirely consensual. He said an accusation by a second woman that he raped her when they were both students at Duke University in 2000 was “demonstrably false” and has demanded a full investigation.
“I will clear my good name and I have nothing to hide,” Fairfax said in a statement. “I will not resign.”
Calls for Fairfax, who is African-American, to step aside have come from state House and Senate Democrats, the Legislative Black Caucus, former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, Virginia’s two U.S. senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, also both Democrats, and several potential Democratic presidential hopefuls.
Reporting by Gary Robertson in Richmond,Va.; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely and Jonathan Allen in New York, Katharine Jackson in Richmond, and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler
McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump’s a Russian asset
McCabe has said in the past that the FBI had a good reason to open up a counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump was working with Russia and a possible national security threat.
The former official was on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” when he was asked if he believes Trump may still be a Russian asset. He said he’s “anxious” to see the conclusion of special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation.
He was also asked if he believes Trump is fit to serve and said it is not up to him to make the determination.
Gowdy challenges McCabe’s claim congressional leaders didn’t object to Russia counterintelligence probe
Former congressman and Fox News contributor Trey Gowdy disputed former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe’s claim Tuesday that congressional leaders didn’t object to the bureau’s counterintelligence investigation over President Trump’s Russia ties.
“The reason he’s doing it this way is that [Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.] and [former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.] are not allowed to discuss anything that’s said in a ‘Gang of Eight’ meeting and McCabe knows that,” Gowdy said on “The Story with Martha MacCallum.” “So he can level the accusation and Devin and Paul cannot refute him.” Nunes chaired the House Intelligence Committee from 2015-19.
McCabe, in an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday morning, said no members of the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders, including Nunes and Ryan, objected to the investigation.
“I told Congress what we had done,” McCabe told Savannah Guthrie.
“Did anyone object?” Guthrie asked.
“That’s the important part here, Savannah,” McCabe replied. “No one objected. Not on legal grounds, not on constitutional grounds and not based on the facts.”
Gowdy, formerly a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said he believed McCabe wasn’t telling the truth and that Nunes and Ryan did not know about a second investigation.
“There were three investigations into a duly elected president. The Peter Strzok one from July of 2016 and then McCabe started a counterintelligence [probe] and if he’s telling the truth, started a criminal probe into the president of the United States,” Gowdy told Martha MacCallum.
“I listened to Devin and Paul quiz the [Justice Department] and the FBI for hours on multiple occasions about the one counterintelligence investigation, we all knew about it. I find it stunning that they would know about a second one and not say a single solitary word.”
Gowdy also addressed former FBI Director James Comey’s May 2017 firing and McCabe’s belief that the president was trying to shut down the Russia investigation.
“If thinking that Jim Comey is not a good FBI director is tantamount to being an agent of Russia then just list all the people that are agents of Russia. [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer, [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi, [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein…,” Gowdy said.
Fox News’ Martha MacCallum contributed to this report.
Trump, Giuliani deny president tried obstructing Michael Cohen investigation
President Trump’s attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, denied a New York Times report that Trump asked then-Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker whether U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, a presidential ally, could be put in charge of the investigation into alleged wrongdoing by Trump’s onetime personal attorney Michael Cohen.
“The president said today he had no such conversation with the acting AG, and I believe Mr. Whitaker issued a statement to the same effect,” Giuliani said in a statement late Tuesday. “The rest of the piece is just a regurgitation of previously refuted obstruction theories. They all fail as obstruction because as [Harvard Law] Professor [Alan] Dershowitz’s recent book and many other authorities make clear, all of the alleged actions were within the president’s sole discretion under Article II of the U.S. Constitution.”
The Times report said that Whitaker told Trump that he could not put Berman in charge of the Cohen investigation because he had already recused himself from that matter. The paper claimed that Trump “soured” on Whitaker and “complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.”
Trump denied the story at the White House Tuesday afternoon, referring to the Times report as “more fake news” and saying that he had a “very good” relationship with Whitaker, who was replaced last week by William Barr.
“I have a lot of respect for Mr. Whitaker. I think he’s done a great job,” Trump said. He said Whitaker was “a very fine man, and he should be given a lot of thanks by our nation.”
Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec referred to testimony Whitaker gave to the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month.
“Under oath to the House Judiciary Committee, then-Acting Attorney General Whitaker stated that ‘at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation,'” Kupec said. “Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony.”
Berman was named acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in January 2018 by the AG at that time, Jeff Sessions. Berman was appointed to the position indefinitely by the panel’s judges three months later.
Prosecutors in the Southern District say Trump directed Cohen to make illegal hush-money payments to two women — adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — in order to keep them quiet about alleged sexual encounters with them dating back more than a decade and coming soon after he’d married his current wife, Melania. Cohen is scheduled to report to prison next month to begin a three-year sentence after pleading guilty this past August to campaign finance and other violations.
Cohen is also scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 28. His attorney, Lanny Davis, has said that Cohen also plans to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Oversight Committee before the end of this month. In November, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Fox News’ John Roberts and Jake Gibson contributed to this report.
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- Top seed Thiem knocked out of Rio Open in first round
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