State Democrat to initiate articles of impeachment against Fairfax
Lieutenant governor denies sexual assault allegations
RICHMOND | A Democratic state lawmaker plans to introduce articles of impeachment Monday against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is accused of sexually assaulting two women during his 20s, stoking the political bonfire consuming Virginia’s Democratic leadership.
Despite mounting resignation calls from fellow Democrats, Mr. Fairfax appeared determined to fight for his political future in potentially brutal hearings in a General Assembly where Republicans are in the majority.
“The one thing I want to make abun- dantly clear is that in both situations I knew at the time, and I know today, that the interactions were consensual,” Mr. Fairfax said in a statement.
His repeated claim that he did nothing wrong and that he was the victim of a political “smear” only emboldened his
accusers, Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, who announced they would publicly testify at impeachment hearings.
“Ms. Watson stands ready, although it will be painful, to tell the Virginia Legislature what Mr. Fairfax did to her when she was 20 years old,” Nancy Erika Smith, Ms. Watson’s lawyer, said in a statement.
Ms. Watson also is considering involving police in North Carolina, where the alleged attack took place in 2000 and where there is no statute of limitations for any felony crimes, including rape and sexual assault.
Delegate Patrick Hope, a Democrat who represents Arlington, said he will introduce articles of impeachment because Mr. Fairfax “can no longer fulfill his duties to the commonwealth.”
“He needs to address this as a private citizen. The time has come for him to step down,” he said.
The jeopardy confronting Mr. Fairfax, who was a 39-year-old rising star in the party, is part of a political crisis overtaking Virginia’s Democratic leadership. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring have been accused of racism for wearing blackface in the 1980s. Mr. Northam is defying his party’s calls for him to step down.
“Right now, Virginia needs someone that can heal. There’s no better person to do that than a doctor,” Mr. Northam, a physician, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” later adding, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Democrats also are grappling with a succession scare as scandals are staining the first person in the line of gubernatorial succession (Mr. Fairfax) and the second in line (Mr. Herring). The next-up would be House Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican.
Booting Mr. Fairfax from office, however, would give Democrats a way out. Mr. Northam would be able to name a scandal-free successor and then step down himself.
The disgrace tarnishing the top elected officials could sour voters on Democrats in an election year in which every General Assembly seat is up for grabs, likely helping Republicans hold on to a thin majority.
A backlash from black and female voters could even affect the 2020 elections in a state that only recently swung from Republican to Democratic.
Adding to the sting of racism and sexual assault accusations, the Democratic candidate in a special election for Virginia House apologized last week anti-Semitic comments made five years ago.
Ibraheem Samirah, who was born in the U.S. but calls himself a “second-generation Palestinian refugee,” said the offensive comments he wrote on Facebook were musings of his college mind. He said he regrets it, apologized for adding “to the pain of the Jewish community” and asked for understanding.
Mr. Samirah, a dentist, is running against Republican Greg Nelson and independent candidate Connie Haines Hutchinson in what will be the Democrats’ first test since the scandals began to pile up.
Mr. Fairfax’s two accusers, in separate statements from their separate lawyers, said they want to publicly refute his denials and help force him out of office.
Ms. Tyson, who was the first to come forward a week ago, said Mr. Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him when they met as campaign aides at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Ms. Watson alleged a similar attack when she and Mr. Fairfax were students at Duke University. She also says she can corroborate her story with documents and witnesses that she told of the attack at the time.
Over the weekend, Mr. Fairfax said he would fight to clear his name and that he wanted an FBI investigation into the women’s accusations.
“I say this again without reservation: I did not sexually assault or rape Meredith Watson, Vanessa Tyson or anyone else,” he said.
He added, “This has been a devastating week for my family. It has been an especially devastating time for the great Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Mr. Fairfax and wife, Cerina Fairfax, have been married since 2006 and have two children.
The lieutenant governor previously acknowledged having sex with Ms. Tyson, saying he was single, in his 20s and it was “100 percent consensual.” In his latest statement, he acknowledged for the first time having sex with Ms. Watson and claimed it too was a consensual encounter.
“Lt. Gov. Fairfax’s assertion that these sexual assaults were consensual, while simultaneously trying both on and off the record to discredit the victims, says all you need to know about his lack of fitness to serve in public office,” said Debra S. Katz and Lisa J. Banks, lawyers for Ms. Tyson.
Ms. Watson’s lawyer said Mr. Fairfax’s request of an FBI probe was a ruse.
“He knows as a former prosecutor, that the FBI has no jurisdiction over this matter. Indeed, my client may contact North Carolina authorities about a possible criminal prosecution,” she said. “For real due process, not hidden from the public, we invite Mr. Fairfax to join Ms. Watson and her witnesses in testifying at an impeachment hearing.”
Mr. Fairfax’s reaction to the accusations has alternated between heated and tempered.
Mr. Fairfax reportedly called Ms. Watson a “nut” who also claimed she was raped by a Duke basketball player.
The comments drew a rebuke from Ms. Watson’s lawyer, who added more detail to her client’s rape allegations.
“Ms. Watson was raped by a basketball player during her sophomore year at Duke. She went to the dean, who provided no help and discouraged her from pursuing the claim further. Ms. Watson also told friends, including Justin Fairfax,” Ms. Smith said.
She said Mr. Fairfax then used the basketball player rape against Ms. Watson during the only encounter she had with the future lieutenant governor after he assaulted her.
“She left a campus party when he arrived, and he followed her out. She turned and asked: ‘Why did you do it?’ Mr. Fairfax answered: ‘I knew that because of what happened to you last year, you’d be too afraid to say anything,’” according to the account provided by Ms. Smith.
“Like he is smearing Dr. Vanessa Tyson, Mr. Fairfax is now smearing Ms. Watson. That’s shameful,” said Ms. Smith. “The smears on victims of sexual assault have to stop. Why would any woman come forward with information about a powerful man knowing that he and his supporters will stop at nothing to smear and discredit them? Women come forward to support one another and to stop the culture of rape that is even more pervasive than we acknowledge.”
“I say this again without reservation: I did not sexually assault or rape Meredith Watson, Vanessa Tyson or anyone else,” Virginia Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax said.