RICHMOND — Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax on Wednesday said he has asked prosecutors in two states to investigate allegations by two women that he sexually assaulted them, saying that will prove his innocence.
Fairfax (D) made a lengthy statement before television cameras — and handed out a report on two polygraph examinations that he said he voluntarily took and passed — as lawmakers gathered in Richmond for the day to wrap up business from this year’s legislative session.
“When all the facts and evidence are examined by unbiased law enforcement professionals, I am confident they will reach the conclusion . . . that I am telling the truth,” said Fairfax, a 40-year-old former federal prosecutor. “I did not assault Vanessa Tyson. I did not assault Meredith Watson.”
The day’s official business had not even gotten underway before dramas played out in Capitol Square involving the accusations against Fairfax, as well as scandals enveloping the state’s other top Democrats: Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark R. Herring, both of whom admitted to wearing blackface as young men.
As some lawmakers were still arriving at the Capitol, House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) held a news conference to call attention to some outstanding mysteries surrounding Northam’s scandal, and to highlight reluctance by Democrats to hold a public hearing with Fairfax’s accusers. A former prosecutor, Gilbert dismissed Fairfax’s polygraph results, noting that such evidence is not admissible in court.
“Ted Bundy passed a polygraph,” he said, referring to the convicted serial killer.
Members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who in February called for Northam and Fairfax to step down, held their own news conference to say they were willing to work with the governor when he champions issues that they support. As an example, they noted the governor’s efforts to end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for nonpayment of court fines.
The caucus chairman, Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico), ducked when asked for reaction to national TV appearances this week on “CBS This Morning” by Fairfax’s accusers, Tyson and Watson.
“That’s a good segue to the next press conference,” he said, referring to the one Fairfax was about to hold.
Reading from a five-page statement, Fairfax rebutted the tearful television appearances by the two women. He said he had a consensual encounter with Watson in 2000 when they were undergraduates at Duke University and another with Tyson in 2004 when they were in Boston to attend the Democratic National Convention.
“I do not believe that national television appearances or legislative hearings are the right vehicles to get at the truth,” he said. “Sensationalizing allegations does not make them true. Yet airing salacious allegations without evidence does enormous damage.”
“Over the years, I have built a reputation as a committed public servant,” he said. “Both as a federal prosecutor and as lieutenant governor, I have stood up for women and for victims of criminal behavior. Make no mistake. If the facts alleged by Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson were true, the conduct would be criminal. Such conduct is against everything I stand for in both my public and private life.”
“In my 40 years, no one has ever alleged that I have ever done anything like what either of these women describe, allegations that were both first made public at the very moment that it appeared that I might become governor of this great Commonwealth,” he said.
Fairfax, who had been widely expected before the scandal to run for governor in 2021, said he wanted to reassure Virginians.
“I have asked for this opportunity to speak today because I want the people of Virginia who honored me by electing me as their lieutenant governor to know that your trust was not misplaced,” he said.
After speaking, Fairfax ignored shouted questions from reporters and left the room.
Watson’s lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, said Watson wants a public hearing “not a months-long or years-long criminal investigation which is done in secrecy. We know that Fairfax and his protectors will use any criminal inquiry to say he can’t answer any questions in public. He says he wants due process, but a hearing is due process. He still refuses to answer questions — as both accusers have done.”
Smith also said that as a lawyer, Fairfax would know that the Supreme Court of Virginia has “ruled in cases spanning three decades that polygraph tests are so thoroughly unreliable as to be of no proper evidentiary use and are therefore inadmissible to establish guilt or innocence.”
Attorneys for Tyson said she still wants to testify publicly at a bipartisan legislative hearing.
Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins in Massachusetts, would not say whether she has launched a probe.
“As a matter of policy, we don’t discuss any sexual assault investigation in the absence of criminal charges,” he said.
Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry’s office in North Carolina did not respond to a request for comment.
Elsewhere, an estimated 6,500 March for Life demonstrators gathered outside the state Capitol, chanting, “Life, life, life!” while holding signs that read, “Stop Abortion Now.”
Nearby, a smaller crowd waved signs demanding to “Keep abortion legal.”
Carol Driskill, 73, a March for Life attendee, said she hoped the turnout would convince Northam and lawmakers to steer away from pro-abortion-rights laws.
“Our governor was on the radio explaining how to kill a baby,” said Driskill, referring to the controversy over a failed bill introduced by Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) that sought to limit restrictions on late-term abortions.
It was the backlash to that legislation that led to the Feb. 1 revelations of a racist photo on Northam’s medical school yearbook page and his use of blackface as a young man. Then, when it appeared that the governor might resign and be replaced by Fairfax, the allegations of sexual assault against Fairfax became public. In short order, Herring admitted that he, too, wore blackface at 19 for a party during college.
Republicans have seized on the three scandals to urge voters to back them instead of Democrats. This is an election year in Virginia, when all 140 seats in the legislature will be on the ballot. Republicans have a two-seat majority in each chamber and are trying to hold on to control.
As the antiabortion rally got underway Wednesday, state Sen. William M. Stanley Jr. (R-Franklin) urged the crowd to help ensure that Republicans maintain their small majorities.
“The General Assembly is at a crossroads,” Stanley said. “You can deliver the majorities that will make life permanent in the Commonwealth of Virginia. They need to hear from us that we will not stand for murder.”
At his news conference, Gilbert said he wanted details about the outcome of a private investigation that Northam said he would launch soon after a racist picture in his 1984 medical school yearbook page emerged. The photo shows one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan hood. Northam initially took responsibility for the photo, then said he was not in the picture but confessed to putting shoe polish on his face to imitate Michael Jackson in a dance contest.
A placard perched on an easel beside Gilbert asked a series of questions: “Has the private investigator he said he would hire completed their work yet? If he was not in the photo, does he know who was and how it got on his page yet? Have Democrats already forgiven and forgotten in advance of Northam’s future fundraising?”
Northam’s office said last week that it has no update on the private investigation.
“Everybody’s back to business and back to normal — or very close to it — despite the fact that all these unanswered questions remain, not only with the governor and attorney general, but especially with the lieutenant governor,” Gilbert said. “I think even folks who are tired of this and numb to it still would like those questions resolved.”
Jenna Portnoy contributed to this report.