The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion It’s time for answers to disturbing questions in the allegations against Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) presides over the Senate session at the state Capitol in Richmond on Feb. 22, 2019.
Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) presides over the Senate session at the state Capitol in Richmond on Feb. 22, 2019. (Steve Helber/AP)
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A YEAR and a half has passed since two women accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) of separate sexual assaults in 2000 and 2004, prompting widespread calls for his resignation. Still unanswered after these many months is the question of whether this top elected official in the commonwealth is a criminal who preyed on vulnerable women or the victim of false accusations and a rush to judgment. It is clearly frustrating for Mr. Fairfax, who has consistently proclaimed his innocence and plans to run for governor next year, but the situation is equally untenable for the people of Virginia and for anyone who truly cares about the rights and safety of women.

The allegations brought in February 2019 against Mr. Fairfax — that he forced a woman to perform oral sex in a Boston hotel room during the Democratic National Convention and that he raped a schoolmate friend while at Duke University — came at a tumultuous time in Richmond politics. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) was embroiled in scandal over a blackface photograph on his medical school yearbook page, and it looked as though he might leave office, opening the way for Mr. Fairfax. The accusations — first from Vanessa Tyson about her alleged assault by Mr. Fairfax in Boston, and days later, the rape charge from Meredith Watson — upended any chance of the lieutenant governor assuming the governorship, perhaps irreparably tarnishing his once-promising political career. Mr. Fairfax acknowledged having sexual relations with the women but said they were consensual.

We were critical of Mr. Fairfax’s response to the situation, which we saw as intemperate, and thought the allegations, which on the surface appeared to be credible, needed to be fully investigated. We still believe that. But we also have been struck by Mr. Fairfax’s unusual persistence, some of which was detailed by The Post’s Laura Vozzella, in trying to get more scrutiny of the allegations lodged against him. He has asked the FBI to get involved, pressed law enforcement in Massachusetts and North Carolina to investigate, and was willing to participate in an independent probe by a law firm (which never got off the ground). He took a lie-detector test and released the results and brought a lawsuit (dismissed by a federal judge in a decision that Mr. Fairfax is appealing) against CBS after it aired interviews in April with Ms. Watson and Ms. Tyson.

Critics have framed these efforts by Mr. Fairfax as public relations stunts and faulted him for not pushing for a hearing before the General Assembly. Mr. Fairfax told us he would be willing to testify at a public hearing if a criminal investigation — which he argues is best equipped to deal with these matters — is completed first. It is ironic that some of the same advocates who thought the appropriate way to investigate the sexual assault allegations against Brett M. Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings was with law enforcement now disparage doing the same with Mr. Fairfax.

If law enforcement authorities were to investigate — which at one point, it seemed they might — Mr. Fairfax would be at some risk. That Mr. Fairfax has practically begged for a criminal investigation doesn’t mean he is to be believed and the women discounted — which for too long has been the fate of rape victims. But he has raised some questions and pointed out some inconsistencies in the accounts of the women that need to be addressed.

Most notable is his assertion that there was a witness to the Duke incident who will corroborate his claim that the sex was consensual. Ms. Watson’s attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, has pointedly refused to answer the question — which we posed again — of whether a third person was present. Aside from her sympathetic questioning by CBS’s Gayle King, Ms. Watson has not been available for interviews. Shouldn’t authorities in North Carolina, where there is no statute of limitations on rape, look into this matter, particularly because Ms. Watson claims to have been victim of a separate rape one year earlier at Duke by a prominent basketball player?

Durham County prosecutors didn’t respond to our inquiries. Also refusing to comment were Duke University, prosecutors in Massachusetts and attorneys for Ms. Tyson. The only person willing to answer our questions was Mr. Fairfax.

When the judge dismissed Mr. Fairfax’s claims against CBS, he refused the network’s request that Mr. Fairfax pay its legal fees. “Fairfax’s allegations are not so ‘groundless, frivolous, or unreasonable’ or so lacking in a substantial basis in fact and law as to warrant an award of fees,” the judge wrote, noting that the women’s allegations were “uncorroborated” and were leveled “under circumstances that raises issues as to their timing.” It is time to get answers to the questions that surround these troubling cases.

Read more :
Read a letter in response to this editorial:
Why is The Post defending a politician accused of sexual assault?

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Karen Tumulty: What we need to hear from Justin Fairfax

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