Virginia Del. Rob Bell announced Friday that the Virginia House Courts of Justice Committee will hold hearings concerning the sexual abuse allegations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
According to CNN, both accusers, Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, are invited to testify, as is Fairfax. Watson's attorney released a statement shortly after the announcement saying that she would testify:
Meredith Watson is gratified that the Virginia General Assembly has announced their intention to hold hearings, and she looks forward to testifying at this forum.
It is our understanding that the hearing will be public and televised and that Ms. Watson, Dr. Tyson and Lt. Governor Fairfax will all testify under oath and be subject to the same rules and requirements, including our right to present witnesses and corroborators.
Lawyers for Tyson released a statement on the proposed trial as well.
As she has made clear previously, Dr. Vanessa Tyson is prepared to testify at a public hearing regarding Lt. Governor Fairfax's sexual assault of her in 2004. However, she has not yet received an invitation to do so from members of the Virginia Legislature. Dr. Tyson has also made it clear that she does not want to be embroiled in a highly charged political environment. It is the duty of the leaders on both sides of the aisle in Virginia to establish a bi-partisan path forward that provides for due process for everyone involved and facilitates a thorough examination of the allegations. If the Legislature truly believes that all sides deserve to be heard and taken seriously, its leaders will come together and determine an appropriate process.
Fairfax released his own statement later Friday.
This week, House Republicans voted overwhelmingly against the ERA. Now suddenly the same Republicans want to distract the public from their record of opposition to women’s rights by engaging in political theater.
The Lt. Governor has consistently denied the unsubstantiated allegations against him and he has consistently requested a full, fair, independent, impartial, and non-political investigation by law enforcement. Obviously this House Republican led effort is partisan.
The Lt. Governor was the first and remains the only party calling for a law enforcement investigation. House Republicans want to pursue this historically unprecedented course of action because the accused is a popularly elected Democrat.
The path to finding truth and justice should be based on due process and the work of law enforcement professionals. The Lt. Governor is confident that the truth will exonerate him.
Bell's announcement comes without the support of Democrats, who would not agree to an offer from Speaker of the House Kirk Cox and the House GOP to form a bipartisan panel to investigate the claims. The House Democratic Caucus released this statement on the trials:
"Today, House Republicans announced on the floor of the House that they will push forward with a meeting of the Courts of Justice committee to review the allegations against the Lt. Governor. Just before that, the Speaker's office distributed a press release with the title, 'ICYMI: Every way the Virginia House Democrats said no to reviewing sexual assault allegations against Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax.'
"House Democrats were among the first to call for Lt. Governor Fairfax's resignation after the allegations were revealed, and we have maintained our view that the allegations need to be taken seriously. Moreover, Democratic leadership had simply requested a clear plan for a joint approach. Instead, we were met first with silence, and then with press releases.
"The Speaker and House Republicans are attempting to politicize these serious, criminal allegations. All parties involved deserve better.
"Democrats believe in the rule of law and the process embodied in the U.S. Consitution. Repeatedly, House Democrats have called for due process for both the accusers and the accused, and our leadership has attempted to work in a bipartisan manner, only to be publicly criticized by our Republican colleagues. Due process is not a talking point or a sound byte - it is a serious and fundamental part of our democracy and of justice. House Democrats met with Republican leadership several times over the past week, and Democratic leadership requested information and feedback that they never received from Republicans. Yesterday, Leader Eileen Filler-Corn sent a letter to Speaker Cox outlining the history of these communications, below.
"Even with the announcement today by Delegate Rob Bell, we lack any details or substantive information on how this meeting would proceed.
"If House Republicans want to talk about politics and compare our records of standing up for women and communities of color, then we look forward to seeing them on the campaign trail. But these allegations are not about campaigns or press releases, and we ask the Delegates on the other side of the aisle of the House to respect that.
"As we move forward, House Democrats will continue to consider only the best interests of the accusers, the accused, and the Commonwealth."
Fairfax said he "would not resign" after being accused of sexual assault while he was a Duke University student in 2000 as well as while working at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.
There have been calls from both sides of the aisle for Fairfax to either step down or be impeached, including from former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Virginia Reps. Jennifer Wexton, Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger, Don Beyer and Gerry Connolly, and Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.