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Second woman accuses Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault

| Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, 5:09 p.m.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax presides over the state Senate in Richmond, Va., on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. California college professor Vanessa Tyson has made an allegation of sexual assault against Fairfax. He has denied the allegations, casting them as a political smear. (Steve Earley/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax presides over the state Senate in Richmond, Va., on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. California college professor Vanessa Tyson has made an allegation of sexual assault against Fairfax. He has denied the allegations, casting them as a political smear. (Steve Earley/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)
Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, gavels the session to order at the start of the Senate session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, gavels the session to order at the start of the Senate session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. — A second woman has come forward to accuse Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault. The woman said in a statement Friday that the attack took place when she and Fairfax were students at Duke University.

“I deny this latest unsubstantiated allegation. It is demonstrably false. I have never forced myself on anyone ever,” Fairfax said in a statement after the accusation was made public Friday.

The Associated Press is not reporting details of the allegation because it has not been corroborated.

The new accusation further clouds the fate of Virginia’s government. Fairfax would take over if Gov. Ralph Northam were to resign over the racist photo that appeared on his medical school yearbook page. Northam told his top staff Friday that he would not resign. Attorney General Mark Herring, who is second in line of succession, admitted putting on blackface in college.

Earlier this week, California college professor Vanessa Tyson accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex on him in 2004 during the Democratic National Convention. Fairfax called the allegation a political smear.

Northam told top staff Friday that he is not going to resign. Northam called an afternoon Cabinet meeting to announce his intention to stay, a senior official said. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity

The new developments come 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.

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.

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.”

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