Feb. 11 (UPI) -- A Virginia state delegate said Monday the legislature will look at all options in handling sexual assault accusations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, but backed off on a threat to introduce articles of impeachment.
Two sexual assault claims were made against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax last week, leading to calls for investigation. The state's second-in-command has refuted the claims and refused to resign.
Delegate Patrick Hope was expected to introduce a House resolution calling for an investigation into the case. Monday, though, he said lawmakers must first assess every option before moving to remove Fairfax from office.
"[Sunday] I sent draft language to my colleagues on the first step of an impeachment action regarding the Lt. Governor. There has been an enormous amount of sincere and thoughtful feedback which has led to additional conversations that need to take place before anything is filed," he tweeted.
"We owe it to all parties involved -- especially the victims -- to make sure that we have thought through every option the General Assembly has. That's what these conversations are for -- so we can build more consensus on a path forward."
Friday, Hope said violent sexual assault "clearly qualifies as a high crime. Discussions late Sunday prompted him to take more time to evaluate the situation. If he ultimately introduces the legislation, it would call for an investigation of Fairfax, which could lead to impeachment action.
Fairfax's is the latest twist in a political firestorm in the state that's also engulfed Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, but for different reasons. Northam and Herring both admitted to wearing blackface at parties decades ago. The incidents involving Fairfax occurred in the early 2000s, but the lieutenant governor said they were consensual.
Even if impeachment proceedings begin against Fairfax, it's unclear whether he would actually be removed from office.
"If Fairfax is impeached, it remains unclear whether the Senate would convict," University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said. "A two-thirds vote is needed, and that may depend on the evidence offered."
Fairfax's office has asked the FBI to investigate the women's claims.
"He believes that an inherently political process is not the most likely path for learning the truth," spokeswoman Lauren Burke said. "The lieutenant governor is confident in the truth that will emerge from an independent impartial investigation."
The scandals involving Fairfax, Northam and Herring have the potential to morph into a full-blown political crisis for Virginia. By law, Fairfax would succeed Northam if the governor resigned. So far, both Northam and Herring have dismissed calls to resign.
Northam said he wants to focus on racial equality.
"This has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia," he said. "It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we're ready to learn from our mistakes."
President Donald Trump has weighed in on the Virginia controversy, saying the scandals put the state back in play for Republicans in 2020. The state hasn't voted for a Republican candidate since 2004.
"African Americans are very angry at the double standard on full display in Virginia," Trump Tweeted.