Virginia House Democrats say investigation into Lt. Gov. Fairfax should happen outside of legislature

Posted at 4:45 PM, Feb 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-21 17:16:05-05

NORFOLK, Va. – Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates say any investigation into Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax should happen “outside of the political arena,” a sign they will not move forward with impeachment proceedings.

In a statement posted to Twitter on Tuesday, the House Democrats say investigations should be led by law enforcement officers.

Fairfax denies he sexually assaulted two women, named Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson. Tyson has agreed to meet with the District Attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts. Tyson claims Fairfax raped her in 2004 during the Democratic National Convention in Boston. A spokesman for the DA’s Office would not comment on a timetable for the meeting.

“Given the allegations, it is appropriate that the Suffolk County District Attorney in Massachusetts has offered to investigate,” House Democrats said in the statement. “We hope any other jurisdictions involved would follow Massachusetts’ lead.”

Watson’s attorney released a statement in response to the Virginia House Democrats that reads:

Apparently, the Virginia House Democratic Caucus believes that courageous victims of rape need to be heard — just not by them. Ms. Watson is counting on the General Assembly to do the right thing and hold hearings now. These nonstop efforts to duck their role is pure cowardice. Sympathy is welcome, but action is needed.

Watson is prepared to publicly testify against Fairfax in a hearing, she wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post. Watson says Fairfax raped her in 2000 when they were students at Duke University.

“I am frustrated by calls for an investigation rather than a public hearing into these matters,” Watson wrote. Shortly after she initially came forward, Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) announced he would introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax. A few days later he backed off the idea, saying he wanted to have additional conversations.

Following Watson’s op-ed, House Speaker Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) tweeted that he hoped lawmakers could “develop a bipartisan consensus on the best way to look into these serious allegations.” Right now, the next steps in Watson’s case remain unclear.

Lawyers for Vanessa Tyson also released a statement calling on Virginia General Assembly, asking them to act swiftly to initiate independent investigation before adjourning. The full statement reads:

It has been two weeks since Dr. Vanessa Tyson came forward with detailed allegations about Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax’s sexual assault of her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.  Since then, Dr. Tyson has made clear that she is willing to cooperate in any investigation by the Virginia General Assembly or other appropriate authorities, including the Suffolk County District Attorney, to ensure that Lt. Governor Fairfax is held accountable for his actions.  While prosecutors in Massachusetts have asked to meet with Dr. Tyson in furtherance of an investigation and Dr. Tyson will do so, the Virginia General Assembly has remained silent and has taken no action whatsoever in response to her allegations, even after a second woman, Meredith Watson, came forward to report that Lt. Governor Fairfax raped her while they were students at Duke University in 2000.

While lawmakers in both parties have responded with words of concern, they have utterly failed to act and have stood idly by as Lt. Governor Fairfax has impugned Dr. Tyson’s actions as being politically motivated; verbally attacked Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson; threatened to file criminal charges against Dr. Tyson if she pursues criminal charges against him; misstated actions taken by The Washington Post in a deceitful effort to discredit Dr. Tyson, earning a rare rebuke from its Editor; referred to Dr. Tyson using a misogynistic epithet, according to NBC news; and demanded an FBI investigation knowing full well that it has no jurisdiction over the crimes alleged, in an effort to mislead the public.  Lt. Governor Fairfax continues to preside over the Virginia Senate, painting himself as a victim but offering no proof of his innocence.  Incredibly, Lt. Governor Fairfax’s Chief of Staff even compared him in a Facebook post to civil rights icon Emmett Till, who at the age of 14 was lynched in Mississippi after being falsely accused of flirting with a white woman.

All of this comes as the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on Friday, February 22, 2019, without taking any action.  It now appears that the Virginia General Assembly lacks the political courage to establish a process by which Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson’s serious allegations of sexual violence suffered at the hands of Lt. Governor Fairfax will be fully investigated.  We ask the members of the Virginia General Assembly to consider what message such inaction sends to victims of sexual assault and rape.

It is unfathomable that the Virginia General Assembly appears intent on ending its current session without addressing this issue in any meaningful way.  We call on the General Assembly to hire experienced independent investigators to conduct a prompt and thorough inquiry of these matters.  Credible allegations of sexual assault must not be ignored.  Dr. Tyson, Ms. Watson and Lt. Governor Fairfax have all called for an appropriate process.  The General Assembly must act, and must do so immediately.  To be clear, we find it totally unacceptable for the General Assembly to stand down and abdicate its duties, and instead await action by prosecutors in Massachusetts and North Carolina that might never come.  Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson deserve better than supportive words.  The General Assembly must do its job and make clear to citizens of the commonwealth that women will not only be believed, but that appropriate action will be taken based on a credible, transparent process in which all sides have the opportunity to be heard.  We urge the Virginia General Assembly to establish a constructive path for moving forward

House Democrats repeated their call to Fairfax for his resignation in their recent statement. “We are willing to work in a bipartisan manner with members of the General Assembly on a path forward,” they said.

Fairfax has resisted calls to step down and maintains his innocence. He’s called for a “full, fair, and impartial and non-political investigation.”

The General Assembly session is scheduled to end on Saturday.

To read more on the sexual assault allegation against Lt. Gov. Fairfax, click here.