VIRGINIA LT. GOV. Justin Fairfax’s once-promising political career, and possibly his professional one, have hung in the balance since February, when he was accused of sexual assault by two women, neither of whom had any apparent reason to lie. The Democrat has not helped his cause by alleging a smear campaign and conspiracy against him; by sliming one accuser by saying she was “very much into” their sexual encounter; or, this month, by filing a lawsuit against CBS , which aired interviews last spring with his accusers, that looks frivolous on its face.
In the process, the criminal allegations against Mr. Fairfax have been allowed to fester, a terrible outcome for Virginia.
There is no perfect way to clear the air around Mr. Fairfax, nor any process guaranteed to yield an ironclad accounting of the truth. That is no justification for inaction, which subjects Virginians to an ongoing, episodic exchange of verbal volleys from the lieutenant governor and his accusers, most of them not subject to much scrutiny.
There are two main procedural ways forward. One is the prospect of criminal investigations in Durham, N.C., where Mr. Fairfax is alleged to have raped an acquaintance at Duke University, in 2000, and Boston, where another woman says he forced her to perform oral sex on him, against her will, in 2004. Mr. Fairfax says both encounters were consensual.
The other is for the House of Delegates in Richmond to undertake an impeachment hearing, with witnesses who would testify under oath. If the House recommended that Mr. Fairfax be removed, it would fall to the state Senate to decide his fate; he could be removed on a two-thirds vote.
Mr. Fairfax, a former federal prosecutor, opposes General Assembly action. He has asked the district attorneys in North Carolina and Boston to investigate — perhaps knowing that conviction so many years after the events is unlikely — but he has no say in the matter. (It is unclear whether the statute of limitations on a possible sexual assault charge has expired in Massachusetts; there is no time limit on such charges in North Carolina.) His accusers — Vanessa Tyson , who says he assaulted her in a Boston hotel room during the 2004 Democratic convention, and Meredith Watson, who says he raped her while they both were undergraduates at Duke — have called for a hearing by the Virginia General Assembly. Neither favors a criminal investigation.
Among the problems with legislative inquiry is the possibility or likelihood that it devolves into political theater, or farce. Another is that whatever investigative authority the House may wield may not be adequate to compel testimony from some potentially relevant witnesses. Democrats, some of whom have called for Mr. Fairfax to resign, have opposed such a hearing, though it may hold just as much political peril for Republicans.
Nonetheless, a hearing remains the sole option that may be exercised at the General Assembly’s discretion, and the only way to elicit sworn testimony by Mr. Fairfax and his accusers, among others, in a public forum not susceptible to stage managing by any of them. Whatever its imperfections, it is the most likely means to deliver an accounting to what is, at this point, the real jury: the people of Virginia.