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Va. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax renews his denials and asks for an FBI investigation into assault accusations against him

Virginia's Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, who earlier this week was accused of a 2004 sexual assault that he has denied, faced a new allegation on Feb. 8. (Video: Reuters, Photo: Katherine Frey/Reuters)
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Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax said Saturday that his encounters with the two women who have accused him of sexual assault were consensual, and he called on authorities — including the FBI — to investigate.

His statement came as calls for his resignation grew from former allies, including the Democratic Party of Virginia, which had reserved judgment until a second woman came forward Friday to say he sexually assaulted her.

“This has been a devastating week for my family. It has been an especially devastating time for the great Commonwealth of Virginia,” Fairfax said in a statement Saturday night.

“I say again without reservation: I did not sexually assault or rape Meredith Watson, Vanessa Tyson or anyone else. Our American values don’t just work when it’s convenient — they must be applied at the most difficult of times.”

Tyson last week accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in 2004, at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Watson on Friday accused Fairfax of assaulting her in 2000, while they were students at Duke University.

Saturday’s statement marked the first time Fairfax called on a specific law enforcement agency to investigate, insisting that an independent inquiry would clear him. It was the first time he acknowledged an encounter with Watson.

“As an officer of the court and a former federal prosecutor, I have dedicated my life to the law and due process,” Fairfax said. “Consequently, I call on all appropriate and impartial investigatory authorities, including the FBI, to investigate fully and thoroughly the allegations against me by Ms. Watson and Dr. Tyson. I ask that all three of us be respected during this process.”

Fairfax has now forcefully denied both charges. On Friday, he said he was the victim of a “smear.” But he did not mention that in his Saturday statement.

“The one thing I want to make abundantly clear is that in both situations I knew at the time, and I know today, that the interactions were consensual,” he said Saturday.

He said he knew both women during the time they allege the assaults occurred. He said that he also knew them afterward and that they never told him their interactions were not consensual or caused “any discomfort.”

He ended the statement with a request for fairness.

“I am asking that no one rush to judgment and I am asking for there to be space in this moment for due process,” he said.

Before Fairfax invoked the FBI, which declined to comment, Del. Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington) on Saturday said impeachment proceedings could serve an investigatory role.

Hope said he would introduce articles of impeachment on Monday if Fairfax didn’t resign before then. The lawmaker declined to comment Saturday, but tweeted, “The impeachment process is the investigation.”

Watson’s attorney released a statement late Saturday saying Watson would be willing to testify at such a proceeding. “For real due process, not hidden from the public, we invite Mr, Fairfax to join Ms. Watson and her witnesses in testifyung at an impeachment hearing,” Watson’s lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, said in the statement.

Also late Saturday, Tyson’s attorney, Debra Katz, similarly said Tyson would be willing to testify before the Virginia legislature and cooperate in any law enforcement investigation.

In a second tweet, he said that because the alleged sexual assaults occurred in Massachusetts and North Carolina, “the impeachment process is the only way for Virginia to have the investigation that LG Fairfax has demanded.”

The Democratic Party of Virginia said Saturday morning that the credible nature of the allegations against Fairfax mean he can no longer do his job.

“While the Lieutenant Governor deserves due process in this matter, it is in the best interest of the Commonwealth that he goes through this process as a private citizen,” party chairwoman Susan Swecker said in a statement.

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) joined the chorus of voices calling for Fairfax to resign.

“I deeply respect the principle of due process and believe that the gravity of this situation demands prudence and deliberation,” he said in a statement. “But the Lt. Governor has clearly lost the trust and confidence of the people of Virginia. His ability to serve has been permanently impaired and, at this point, it is in the best interests of the Commonwealth for him to resign.”

Also Friday, the Democratic Lieutenant Governors Association released a statement saying Fairfax had been replaced as chairman before his term was up. The organization did not return calls seeking comment on how it arrived at that decision.

By Saturday night, national Democrats with presidential aspirations, as well as the legislature’s Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate, the influential Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, six of the state’s seven Democratic members of Congress and Sen. Tim Kaine (D), called for Fairfax to step down.

Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), the dean of the congressional delegation, and Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) stopped short of calling on Fairfax to resign but said he must if the allegations are true.

Watson, of Maryland, said Friday that she was sexually assaulted by Fairfax in a “premeditated and aggressive” attack in 2000, when both were undergraduate students at Duke University.

Va. Gov. Ralph Northam says he wants to focus the rest of his term on racial equity

Meanwhile, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said he would serve out the remaining three years of his term and would not step down amid his own scandal involving a racist photograph from his 1984 medical school yearbook.

It was a head-spinning turn in a week of chaos in Virginia. Only a week ago, Fairfax, 39, was preparing to take over as Virginia’s second African American governor when it looked as though Northam, 59, would be forced out over the racial issue.

Since then two women have accused Fairfax of sexual assault, and Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) revealed he dressed in blackface in college. He has escaped calls to resign from leaders who credit him with coming forward and taking responsibility for the behavior.

Amid the chaos, Democratic Party foot soldiers tried to carry on with the workaday business of campaigning for candidates they hope will uphold higher standards than the 2017 ticket of Northam, Fairfax and Herring.

“Understandably shaken up,” Jennifer Adeli, who is in charge of the party’s operation in the Dranesville District in northern Fairfax County, said when asked how she was.

“We worked really hard to elect this slate,” she said. “We had absolutely no reason to think there was anything like this in their backgrounds. People are feeling deceived and sad.”

Virginians split on Gov. Northam’s fate amid blackface scandal, poll shows

The events of the past nine days further prove that the party can’t promote from the same bench and must find new faces and people who are clearly and carefully vetted instead of default choices, she said.

“And, frankly, women are saying we need more women in leadership,” Adeli said.

In the meantime, volunteers knocked on doors Saturday for House of Delegates candidate Ibraheem Samirah, a dentist from Herndon who is running in a Feb. 19 special election.

He would rather talk about health care, education and traffic than the chaos engulfing the party.

Adeli advised fellow Democrats to think of the campaign as a “safe space” and said, “Richmond is not us.”

Many party activists, motivated by the election of President Trump, volunteered for Northam’s campaign because they wanted to send a message to the president and his supporters.

Even if they weren’t wowed by Northam’s low-key nature or middle-of-the-road message, they were sure of one thing.

“He came across as somebody who was a really good person. So it surprised me a lot what he’s done,” said Heidi Meisenheimer, 44, a defense contractor who lives in Herndon and knocked on doors for Samirah. “I don’t have any respect left for him.”

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