Second woman accuses Virginia Lt.-Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault

A second woman has come forward to accuse Virginia Lt.-Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault. Meredith Watson said in a statement through her lawyer Friday that the attack took place when she and Fairfax were students at Duke University.

It calls the attack “premeditated and aggressive” and says Watson “shared her account of the rape with friends in a series of emails and Facebook messages.” 

Fairfax responded hours later, denying the rape accusation and demanding an investigation. 

In a statement from his spokesman, Fairfax said he has “never forced myself on anyone ever” and demanded a “full investigation into these unsubstantiated and false allegations.”

“I will clear my good name and I have nothing to hide,” he wrote, branding the allegations as part of a “vicious and coordinated smear campaign … being orchestrated against me.” He concluded by declaring: “I will not resign.”

He does not have the support of his fellow Democrats. 

In a joint statement, Democrats from both Virginia’s House and Senate said Fairfax can no longer fulfill his duties because of the serious nature of the allegations and that he needs to address them as a private citizen. They concluded, “The time has come for him to step down.” 

Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus later added its voice to the calls for Fairfax to step down. Fairfax is only the second African-American to win statewide office.

Earlier, Delegate Patrick Hope tweeted that he would introduce articles of impeachment for Fairfax on Monday. Hope is an Arlington County Democrat who has served since 2010.

Watson’s allegations come just days after a California woman, Vanessa Tyson, accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex on him in 2004 during the Democratic National Convention. Fairfax called that allegation a political smear. 

Watson’s lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith says in addition to the emails and Facebook messages, they have statements from Watson’s former classmates, corroborating Watson’s story. 

Vanessa Tyson says Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on his during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. (Scripps College/Associated Press)

The upper levels of Virgina’s government are embroiled in ongoing controversy, with the top three Democrats facing accusations of either racism or sexual assault.

The governor, Ralph Northam told his top staff Friday that, despite intense pressure, he is not going to resign over the racist photo that appeared on his yearbook page, according to a top administration official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Blackface and KKK 

The tumult began last Friday afternoon, when Northam’s medical school yearbook page surfaced with a picture of one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

Northam immediately apologized for appearing in the photograph, saying he could not “undo the harm my behaviour caused then and today.” Most of the Democratic establishment called for his resignation by the end of the day.

On Saturday, though, the governor reversed course and said he wasn’t in the picture. He said he wasn’t going to resign immediately because he owed it to the people of Virginia to start a discussion about race and discrimination and listen to the pain he had caused.

“I believe this moment can be the first small step to open a discussion about these difficult issues,” Northam said. But the governor left his long-term plans open, saying he would reassess his decision not to resign if it became clear he had no viable path forward.

From left, Fairfax, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and Gov. Ralph Northam are all currently engulfed in scandal (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch/Associated Press)

Attorney General Mark Herring — in line to become governor if both Northam and Fairfax resign — admitted to putting on blackface in the 1980s, when he was a college student. Herring had previously called on Northam to resign and came forward after rumours about the existence of a blackface photo of him began circulating at the Capitol.

Although the Democratic Party has taken almost a zero-tolerance approach to misconduct among its members in this #MeToo era, a housecleaning in Virginia could be costly: If all three Democrats resigned, Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox would become governor.

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a 2020 presidential hopeful, said Friday that he still thinks Northam should step down.

“I think it dredges up very hurtful, painful things from the past. … I think he’s betrayed the public trust, and he should resign,” Booker said in response to a reporter’s question during an appearance in Iowa.

Positive sign

In a positive sign for Northam, even before he announced his plan to stay in the job, a lawmaker from Virginia’s Democratic-leaning D.C. suburbs said Friday he won’t call on the besieged governor to resign.

“I will not request the Governor’s resignation,” State Sen. Chap Petersen, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Nor will I request any other official to resign until it is obvious that they have committed a crime in office or their ability to serve is irredeemably compromised.”

There has also been little appetite among lawmakers to use official means to force him out. Cox, the House speaker, himself said Monday that there was “a rightful hesitation” among lawmakers to seek Northam’s impeachment or removal. He called on Northam to resign, saying “that would obviously be less pain for everyone.”

Regarding the allegation against Fairfax, the district attorney’s office in Boston declined to say whether it is investigating. Under Massachusetts law, the statute of limitations is 15 years for rape and several related crimes, an interval that would expire this summer for the Tyson’s accusation.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is refusing to resign over a photo of someone in blackface and someone in a Ku Klux Klan hood on his medical school yearbook page. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)





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