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Unclear if Virginia Gov. Northam posed in racist yearbook picture, investigation finds

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By Erik Ortiz  with NBC News Politics
Image: Ralph Northam, Pam Northam
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, left, accompanied by his wife, Pam, speaks during a news conference in the Governor's Mansion in Richmond, Virginia on Feb. 2, 2019.   -   Copyright  Steve Helber AP file

An independent investigation into a racist photo on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's 1984 medical school yearbook page "could not conclusively determine" whether he appeared in the picture, according to the findings released Wednesday.

While investigators noted that Northam has made "inconsistent public statements" about his participation in the photo, which features a person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe, they were unable to find anyone who could shed light on the image on the governor's personal page in his Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook.

"No individual that we interviewed has told us from personal knowledge that the governor is in the photograph, and no individual with knowledge has come forward to us to report that the governor is in the photograph," investigators said in a 36-page report.

A photo on Ralph Northam\'s page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School\'s 1984 yearbook appears to show a man in blackface and a man in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.
A photo on Ralph Northam\'s page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School\'s 1984 yearbook appears to show a man in blackface and a man in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.Eastern Virginia Medical School

Eastern Virginia Medical Schoo launched the investigation by enlisting former Virginia Attorney General Richard Cullen of the McGuireWoods law firm.

The probe's findings come more than three months after the scandal broke in February when the page surfaced online on a conservative news site — leading to calls for Northam's resignation and embroiling Virginia's other top Democrats in separate scandals.

Northam, a pediatric neurologist who took office in January 2018, initially said he was in the photo and apologized at a news conference. But days later, in an interview with CBS News, Northam denied he was in the picture after he "had a chance to step back, take a deep breath" and study it.

Northam, however, has admitted to darkening his face with shoe polish to impersonate Michael Jackson for a dance competition in 1984.

After refusing to leave office, Northam has said he would use the remainder of his term advancing issues of race and equality.

His office did not immediately comment on the results of the investigation.

Virginia's two other top Democrats have weathered their own political controversies:Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has been accused of sexual assault by two women, which he denies and said he would not resign over. Meanwhile, Attorney General Mark Herring has admitted to wearing blackface when he was 19.

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