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In a stunning display of deep fractures developing within Virginia’s Democratic Party, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax suggested supporters of embattled Governor Ralph Northam leaked sexual assault accusations made against the potential gubernatorial successor to the press, reported the New York Times.

“Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of potentially my being elevated that that’s when this uncorroborated smear comes out?” Fairfax told a press gaggle in the capitol rotunda, according to multiple media reports.

The behind-the-scenes conflagration came into public view last night on Twitter when a group backing Fairfax, the Collective PAC, tweeted out a statement leveling accusations against Northam, which occurred before conservative website Big League Politics first surfaced the account by Fairfax’s accuser.

“We’ve also learned through various sources that Governor Northam’s team and advisors have now decided to start attacking Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax by spreading lies to reporters and state leaders in an attempt to quell support for the Lt. Governor as Governor,” read the written statement.

“This pathetic method of attack, along with the racist photos released on Friday are entirely beneath the office of governor and exemplify another reason why Governor Northam is no longer fit to serve the great people in Virginia.”

As Lt. Governor, Fairfax would succeed Northam if the embattled governor were to resign, following the revelation of a racist photo depicting two persons appearing in blackface and a Ku Klux Klan robe on Northam’s 1984 yearbook page, when the future governor was studying at the Eastern Virginia Medical School.

Political observers said the move, if true, seemed intended to prevent Fairfax’s clean ascent to the governor’s mansion, hobbling calls for Northam to step aside, even as the former governor attempts to prove his claims that he did not appear in the racist photo on his yearbook page.

The division between the teams is the second high-profile conflict between Northam and Fairfax. On the campaign trail in 2017, Fairfax was removed from Democratic ticket literature at the behest of the Laborer’s International Union of North America, which refused to support Fairfax over his opposition to construction of natural gas pipelines.

The sexual assault accusations against Fairfax stem from a hotel room encounter at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, when the future politician was working as a staffer on John Edwards’ presidential campaign.

According to the Washington Post, Fairfax’s accuser accompanied him back to his hotel room, where she says a consensual encounter crossed the line into sexual assault. Fairfax acknowledges being in the hotel room, but strongly denies the allegation of sexual assault.

In a statement tweeted last night, Fairfax called the accusations “false and unsubstantiated.”

“Lt. Governor Fairfax has an outstanding and well-earned reputation for treating people with dignity and respect,” the statement read. “He has never assaulted anyone — ever — in any way, shape, or form.”

According to the Post, they did not report the accusations because “Fairfax and the woman told different versions of what happened in the hotel room with no one else present.”

However, contrary to Fairfax’s written statement, the Post also said it did not find “significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations.”

While details remain scarce as the story develops, the accusation leveled by Fairfax and his supporters against Governor Northam and his allies is likely to further roil a Democratic Party in crisis, currently dealing with fallout over the governor’s racist yearbook photo, itself brought to light by public outrage over a controversial 40 week abortion bill and Northam’s comments on post-birth abortion.