Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro on Thursday said he believes the account of the woman accusing Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, but Castro stopped short of calling for Fairfax to step down.
“I had an opportunity yesterday to read through Dr. Tyson’s statement. I believe her claim,” Castro said in a meeting with Washington Post reporters. “I know that Lieutenant Governor Fairfax has denied it. My hope is that there’s some process to get to the bottom of that.”
The answer reflected the awkward position that national Democrats face as they follow the rapid-fire developments in Virginia, with some taking inconsistent positions as they call for some resignations but not others. Some Democrats are also adopting positions that draw into question their calls last year not to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, after he faced claims that he had committed a sexual assault when he was in high school.
The explosion of developments in Virginia has put a new and unwelcome focus on the Democrats who have seized control of the state as it has turned more reliably blue in recent elections.
Gov. Ralph Northam last Friday apologized for a photo on his medical school yearbook page that showed two men, one dressed in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. He reversed course the next day, saying that it wasn’t him in the photo but that he did, in fact, wear blackface while dressing up as Michael Jackson in 1984.
Earlier this week, Fairfax, who would assume the governorship if Northam left office, denied allegations that he had sexually assaulted Vanessa Tyson in 2004. Adding to the chaos, Attorney General Mark R. Herring — the next in line of succession — acknowledged on Wednesday that he had dressed in blackface while in college in 1980.
“With Attorney General Herring, I was pleased that he came forward affirmatively,” Castro said in the interview. “And talked about the incident where he dressed in blackface. And the question is going to be whether he can be effective now or not.”
Castro was the first presidential candidate to call on Northam to resign, but he said more investigation needs to be done before Fairfax should be pushed to step down.
“Well, I mean, I think under the constitution he becomes governor,” Castro said. “He hasn’t resigned. But there should be a process ongoing to get to the bottom of that claim.”
When asked whether Fairfax should resign because of the allegation, Castro responded, “I would say they should get to the bottom of the accusation.”
Other Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), likewise called for an investigation into the accusation by Tyson.
“I thought her story was deeply disturbing and credible, so there must be an investigation,” said Gillibrand, who was the first Democratic senator to publicly call for the resignation of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) after he was accused of sexual assaults.
Castro, a former San Antonio mayor and housing and urban development secretary in the Obama administration, said he had a similar view during the Kavanaugh hearings.
“With Kavanaugh, I was pleased that there was an opportunity for a process to try to get to the bottom of what happened,” he said. “I disagreed with the outcome of that process because I believed Dr. Ford and her testimony. So I think that those senators that voted to support him made a mistake. I did not support him. I believe her claim. But there was a process.”
When asked specifically why he believed that the allegations against Kavanaugh disqualified him but that the allegations against Fairfax do not, Castro paused.
“My hope is that there will be thorough process to get to the bottom of Dr. Tyson’s claim because I believe that we should take a claim like that very seriously,” he said.