Del­e­gate set to in­tro­duce bid to in­ves­ti­gate Fair­fax

House res­o­lu­tion to call for jus­tice panel to hold hear­ings, is­sue re­port

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY GRAHAM MOOMAW

Vir­ginia’s non­stop po­lit­i­cal cri­sis could en­ter a new phase Mon­day when a Demo­cratic law­maker tries to start im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings against Lt. Gov. Justin Fair­fax over two al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault.

The Gen­eral As­sem­bly last con­sid­ered im­peach­ment in the 1940s, when law­mak­ers tried to re­move a judge. But there are no ex­am­ples of an ex­ec­u­tive branch of­fice­holder be­ing im­peached in the mod­ern era, adding to the pro­ce­dural and le­gal un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing Fair­fax’s case if he re­sists bi­par­ti­san calls to re­sign.

It’s not clear if a ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­cans and Democrats in the House of Del­e­gates — the body em­pow­ered to be­gin im­peach­ments — would sup­port such a process. If they did, it could be days or weeks be­fore a fi­nal vote on Fair­fax’s fate.

Del. Pa­trick Hope, D-Ar­ling­ton, plans to in­tro­duce a res­o­lu­tion in the House that would al­low for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the al­le­ga­tions, which Fair­fax has vig­or­ously de­nied. The Vir­ginia Con­sti­tu­tion al­lows im­peach­ment for “malfea­sance in of­fice, cor­rup­tion, ne­glect of duty, or other high crime or mis­de­meanor.”

“There’s no ques­tion that vi­o­lent sex­ual as­sault clearly qual­i­fies as a high crime,” Hope said at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day night.

Hope’s res­o­lu­tion, which he shared with Demo­cratic col­leagues Sun­day af­ter­noon, calls for the House Courts of Jus­tice Com­mit­tee to hold hear­ings on

the Fair­fax al­le­ga­tions and is­sue a re­port on whether he should be im­peached.

“It is not im­peach­ment,” Hope said in an email to his cau­cus. “It is a process to in­ves­ti­gate whether the Courts Com­mit­tee would rec­om­mend im­peach­ment.”

Vanessa Tyson and Mered­ith Wat­son — the women who have come for­ward with ac­cu­sa­tions against Fair­fax — have both said they’re will­ing to tes­tify be­fore the Gen­eral As­sem­bly.

Tyson has ac­cused Fair­fax of as­sault­ing her in a Bos­ton ho­tel room in 2004. Wat­son, who came for­ward Fri­day, has al­leged Fair­fax raped her in 2000 at Duke Univer­sity.

Fair­fax has said both en­coun­ters were con­sen­sual and has re­fused to step down in the face of what he has called a “vi­cious and coordinated smear cam­paign.”

Fair­fax has called for the FBI to in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions against him, though it’s not clear the agency would have ju­ris­dic­tion to get in­volved.

In a state­ment Sun­day, Fair­fax’s of­fice said the lieu­tenant gover­nor is still ex­plor­ing op­tions for how such an in­ves­ti­ga­tion could be per­formed and ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about a leg­isla­tive probe.

“He be­lieves that an in­her­ently po­lit­i­cal process is not the most likely path for learn­ing the truth,” said Fair­fax spokes­woman Lau­ren Burke. “The lieu­tenant gover­nor is con­fi­dent in the truth that will emerge from an in­de­pen­dent im­par­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Vir­ginia State Po­lice would not have the author­ity to in­ves­ti­gate al­leged

“We put our­selves in peril if we ruin some­one’s ca­reer and life for some­thing that later turns out to be not founded.”

crimes that took place in North Carolina and Mas­sachusetts. Tyson’s le­gal team has said she will not file a crim­i­nal com­plaint with Bos­ton au­thor­i­ties. Wat­son’s at­tor­neys have said she could pur­sue a crim­i­nal prose­cu­tion in North Carolina.

Though the House Demo­cratic Cau­cus and Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colo­nial Heights, called for Fair­fax to re­sign af­ter the emer­gence of a sec­ond al­le­ga­tion Fri­day night, they have not in­di­cated whether they’ll back Hope’s call for im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings.

Del. Mar­cus Si­mon, DFair­fax, the House Democrats’ par­lia­men­tar­ian, said House Repub­li­cans, who have a 51-48 ma­jor­ity, would have to go along in or­der for any in­ves­ti­ga­tion to occur.

“Even if all the Democrats get be­hind it, un­less the lead­er­ship de­cides they want it to go for­ward, it’s not go­ing to hap­pen,” Si­mon said.

Cox’s of­fice could not be reached for com­ment Sun­day.

If the House passed ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment by a ma­jor­ity vote, the Sen­ate would have to af­firm them by a two-thirds vote.

With three si­mul­ta­ne­ous scan­dals run­ning the risk of alien­at­ing two of their core con­stituen­cies — AfricanAmer­i­cans and women — there’s no easy path for­ward for Democrats. A vote to im­peach Fair­fax would mean the ouster of the only African-Amer­i­can elected to statewide of­fice, and would come as Gov. Ralph Northam and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark Her­ring, both white, ap­pear to be cling­ing to their of­fices de­spite ad­mit­ting to wear­ing black­face as young men.

Of the three men, Fair­fax is the only one who stands ac­cused of crim­i­nal con­duct. He’s also the only one who has flatly de­nied guilt.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump seemed to ref­er­ence that dy­namic in a tweet posted Sun­day morn­ing.

“African Amer­i­cans are very an­gry at the dou­ble stan­dard on full dis­play in Vir­ginia!” the pres­i­dent said, fol­low­ing up on an ear­lier post declar­ing Vir­ginia back in play for Repub­li­cans in 2020.

Some law­mak­ers feel the im­peach­ment process is pre­ma­ture, re­gard­less of race.

Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Peters­burg, said she’s op­posed to Hope’s res­o­lu­tion. Fair­fax has re­ceived “no due process,” Aird said, and she doesn’t be­lieve the al­le­ga­tions alone would qual­ify as grounds for im­peach­ment.

“Even if you re­move Justin from the equa­tion, this is about the dan­ger­ous prece­dent this sets for any elected of­fi­cial,” Aird said.

Sen. Em­mett Hanger, R-Au­gusta, said he thinks it would be un­wise for the Sen­ate to take any ac­tion against the lieu­tenant gover­nor in the fi­nal two weeks of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

“We put our­selves in peril if we ruin some­one’s ca­reer and life for some­thing that later turns out to be not founded,” Hanger said. “They are only ac­cu­sa­tions now.”

BOB BROWN/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Lt. Gov. Justin Fair­fax has said both en­coun­ters were con­sen­sual and has re­fused to step down in the face of what he has called a smear cam­paign.

BOB BROWN/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Lt. Gov. Justin Fair­fax has called for the FBI to in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions against him, though it’s not clear the agency would have ju­ris­dic­tion to get in­volved in the mat­ter.

Hope

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