“Everyone deserves to be heard,” Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) has declared in the face of two accusations of sexual assault, both of which he has denied.
He is absolutely right, but not for the reasons he claims.
In a Sunday night interview with my colleague Laura Vozzella, Fairfax said that “due process is at the heart of our constitutional democracy in order to get to the truth and be true to what we are as Americans.” Certainly, a full investigation is warranted, and we can hope that it will help determine whether the allegations by the women are true.
But the standards we expect of our elected leaders should be higher than those required in a criminal proceeding. In recent days, we have learned a lot about Fairfax through his words and behavior as he responded to seemingly credible accusers. His responses have raised reasonable doubt about whether he should be in a position of public trust.
There are at least three questions he should answer right now, without waiting for a formal investigation. They are:
1. What evidence can he produce to show that the story of the second accuser, Meredith Watson, is — in his words — “demonstrably false?”
He issued that statement shortly after Watson went public Friday with her explosive claim that he raped her in 2000, when they were both students at Duke University. The qualifier “demonstrably” suggests something incontrovertible, and if he has it, he should come forward with it now.
2. How does he define consent?
Vanessa Tyson, now a college professor in California, claims that Fairfax physically overpowered her and forced her to perform oral sex on him during an encounter in his hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. In her version of events, she cried and gagged and tried to move her head away. Tyson claimed, in an account issued through her lawyers, that she “never gave any form of consent. Quite the opposite.”
The lieutenant governor maintains that the episode was consensual, and that Tyson was “very much into" it.
So it seems fair to ask, how does Fairfax define consent? Must it be offered explicitly? Can a potential sex partner change her mind? And how, exactly, does he contend that Tyson made her consent known to him?
3. What is his evidence that all of this is the result of a political conspiracy against him?
There is no known connection between Tyson and Watson, or any apparent political motive by either. Yet the lieutenant governor has wrapped himself in his own claim of victimhood. “It is obvious that a vicious and coordinated smear campaign is being orchestrated against me,” he said in his statement Friday.
Is it? When Vozzella asked him who might be behind such a conspiracy, Fairfax said he was “laser focused” on doing his job as lieutenant governor and “getting the truth out.” If indeed he wants to be heard, we are listening. And if he has some provable facts on his side, it is time for him to produce them.