Democrats’ calls for an investigation into sex assault claims against Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax dissolved into demands for resignation and threats of impeachment after a second woman publicly accused him.
A number of leaders called for a thorough investigation after Vanessa Tyson, a college professor in California, said publicly that Fairfax assaulted her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Some groups, including the National Organization of Women, called for him to resign after Tyson went public.
When lawyers for Meredith Watson, a Duke University classmate of Fairfax, on Friday accused Virginia’s number two elected official of “premeditated and aggressive” sexual assault, many groups noted corroborating evidence and changed their messages.
Fairfax denies both allegations and said he wanted an investigation into the “unsubstantiated” claims. He responded again Saturday evening, saying both incidents were consensual.
“As an officer of the court and a former federal prosecutor, I have dedicated my life to the law and due process,” Fairfax said Saturday. “Consequently, I call on all appropriate and impartial investigatory authorities, including the FBI, to investigate fully and thoroughly the allegations against me by Ms. Watson and Dr. Tyson. I ask that all three of us be respected during this process.”
Fairfax previously said the allegations are a “vicious and coordinated smear campaign.”
At least one local NAACP leader questioned the calls for Fairfax to resign, saying he is troubled by how quickly Democratic leaders turned on him.
“We want to see Justin Fairfax treated fairly,” Phillip Thompson, the former president of the Loudoun NAACP. “If he has done what they claim he has done he has to suffer the consequences but right now that hasn’t been proved.”
Still, the criminal nature of both allegations has focused a harsh spotlight on Lt. Gov. Fairfax, who just one week ago was poised to take over the governor’s spot amid bipartisan calls for Northam to resign over a blackface scandal.
Virginia Del. Patrick Hope, who represents part of Arlington County, said he will move to impeach Fairfax on Monday if he hasn’t resigned.
“There’s no question that violent sexual assault clearly qualifies as a high crime,” Hope said in a news conference Friday night. “I believe these women. He needs to resign immediately.”
Hope also clarified why he believes Fairfax should be impeached, but not Gov. Ralph Northam or Attorney General Mark Herring, both of whom have faced calls to resign after admitting to wearing blackface in the 1980s.
“The distinction between a sexual assault or a rape is clearly very different. The articles of impeachment under the constitution are very clear, high crimes and misdemeanor,” Hope told News4. “This clearly meets that threshold, while the events that occurred 30 some years ago with the governor and attorney general, while they are heinous and clearly insensitive, they don’t rise to the same level.”
Fairfax hasn’t responded to the possibility of impeachment.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which said on Thursday Fairfax must be “thoroughly investigated” over the first assault claim, issued another statement Friday saying he should step down.
“In light of the most recent sexual assault allegations against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus believe it is best for Lt. Governor Fairfax to step down from his position. We remain steadfast in our conviction that every allegation of sexual assault or misconduct be treated with the utmost seriousness,” the VLBC said in a statement.
Sen. Time Kaine, Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Cory Booker have also said Fairfax should leave office.
Virginia House and Senate Democrats called as a block for Fairfax to step down, including Northern Virginia Reps. Jennifer Wexton, Don Beyer, Abigail Spanberger, Elaine Luria and Gerry Connolly.
Those Northern Virginia Representatives signed onto a statement before Watson came forward, saying that said the assault allegation from Tyson should be taken seriously. At the time, they did not say Fairfax should resign.
On Friday, Sen. Mark Warner issued a more mild statement than many colleagues and said Fairfax should step down if the allegations are accurate.
The growing calls for resignation throw Virginia’s future leadership into complete uncertainty: There are bipartisan calls for Gov. Ralph Northam to resign after he admitted, then denied, being shown in a 1984 medical school yearbook photo with people in blackface and a KKK robe. He later admitted to wearing blackface as a Michael Jackson costume.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren Announces Presidential Bid
The state’s number three elected official, Attorney General Mark Herring, is under scrutiny after saying he wore blackface at a college party.