A second woman came forward Friday to accuse Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, alleging Fairfax attacked her in 2000 while they were students at Duke University, a claim Fairfax called “demonstrably false.”
Virginia Democrats’ support for Fairfax swiftly collapsed Friday night, as most key backers called on him to resign, including the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Sen. Tim Kaine and most Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation. A Democrat in the House of Delegates said he would introduce articles of impeachment if Fairfax didn’t step down by Monday.
The second accusation comes seven days since the start of a series of scandals now engulfing Virginia’s top three leaders — Gov. Ralph Northam, Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring.
An attorney for Meredith Watson released a statement accusing Fairfax of a “premeditated and aggressive” rape that Watson told her friends about in emails and Facebook messages. “Additionally, we have statements from former classmates corroborating that Ms. Watson immediately told friends that Mr. Fairfax had raped her,” the statement said. Fairfax and Watson were friends but never dated or had a romantic relationship, according to the statement.
The attorney said Watson came forward after learning of the similar allegation leveled against Fairfax by Vanessa Tyson, a California professor who has accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in a Boston hotel room in 2004.
Watson’s statement said the “details of Ms. Watson’s attack are similar to those described by Dr. Vanessa Tyson.”
“At this time, Ms. Watson is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character,” said Nancy Erika Smith, Watson’s attorney.
Fairfax has adamantly denied Tyson’s accusation. In a statement Friday evening, Fairfax called for “a full investigation into these unsubstantiated and false allegations.”
“I will clear my good name and I have nothing to hide. I have passed two full field background checks by the FBI and run for office in two highly contested elections with nothing like this being raised before,” said Fairfax, a 39-year-old former federal prosecutor who was considered a rising star in Democratic politics. “It is obvious that a vicious and coordinated smear campaign is being orchestrated against me. I will not resign.”
Virginia Democrats had refrained from calling for Fairfax’s resignation after the first accusation, but the emergence of a second accuser pushed many Democrats to change course and call for him to step down.
“Lieutenant Governor Fairfax should resign,” Kaine said in a statement. “The allegations against him detail atrocious crimes, and he can no longer effectively serve the commonwealth. We cannot ever ignore or tolerate sexual assault.”
Sen. Mark Warner said that “today’s news is devastating,” adding, “If these allegations concerning Lieutenant Governor Fairfax are accurate, then they are clearly disqualifying and he must resign.”
Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, said in a phone interview that he asked the Virginia Division of Legislative Services to draft articles of impeachment and will study the possible process over the weekend.
“My intent is for the lieutenant governor to step down and it not get to that,” Hope said. “I believe these two women’s stories. This is a pattern of behavior. The lieutenant governor is not fit for office.”
Under the Constitution of Virginia, a lieutenant governor may be impeached by the House of Delegates for “offending against the commonwealth by malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty, or other high crime or misdemeanor.”
The 40-member Senate would try the case. Conviction would require the agreement of two-thirds of the senators present.
House and Senate Democrats in the General Assembly issued a joint statement Friday night calling on Fairfax to resign, saying that “due to the serious nature of these allegations, we believe Lieutenant Governor Fairfax can no longer fulfill his duties to the commonwealth.”
Fairfax, the second African-American to hold statewide office in Virginia, has been widely expected to seek the party’s nomination for governor in 2021. Herring has already announced that he will run.
On Friday night, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, often mentioned as another potential Democratic candidate for governor, said on Twitter: “It takes courage and bravery for any survivor to step forward and share their story. In light of these credible and highly disturbing allegations, I believe the lieutenant governor is no longer capable of serving the best interests of the commonwealth and should step down.”
After the second accuser came forward, Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, was the first lawmaker to call on Fairfax to resign.
Fairfax lost a key pillar of his support as the Legislative Black Caucus called on him to resign in light of the latest allegations.
“While we believe that anyone accused of such a grievous and harmful act must receive the due process prescribed by the Constitution, we can’t see it in the best interest of the commonwealth of Virginia for the lieutenant governor to remain in his role.”
In quick succession Friday evening, six of the seven Democrats in Virginia’s U.S. House delegation — all but Rep. Bobby Scott, D-3rd — called on Fairfax to resign.
Scott, the dean of Virginia’s congressional delegation, said in a statement that the allegations against Fairfax are “disturbing and extremely serious” and that they must be investigated immediately.
“If either is found to be true — and there appears to be significant corroborating evidence — then the lieutenant governor should resign immediately.”
Urging Fairfax to step down were Reps. Donald McEachin of the 4th District, Abigail Spanberger of the 7th, Elaine Luria of the 2nd, Jennifer Wexton of the 10th, Don Beyer of the 8th and Gerry Connolly of the 11th.
Wexton, who had previously said she believed Tyson but stopped short on calling for Fairfax to resign, said she believes both Tyson and Watson.
“And I believe Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax must resign,” Wexton said.
Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe also called for Fairfax to resign.
“The allegations against Justin Fairfax are serious and credible,” McAuliffe said in a statement posted to Twitter on Friday evening. “It is clear to me that he can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia as Lieutenant Governor. I call for his immediate resignation.”
Progress Virginia, a liberal grass-roots organization, also called for Fairfax to step down.
“We believe survivors. We believe Dr. Vanessa Tyson. We believe Meredith Watson,” said Anna Scholl, the group’s executive director, in a statement.
“These allegations are serious, horrific, and credible. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax must resign.”
At least four Democratic presidential hopefuls, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Kamala Harris of California, plus former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, also called on Fairfax to resign.
If Fairfax were to resign, Northam could appoint a temporary lieutenant governor who would serve until a special election could be held in November, according to experts who have studied the unprecedented constitutional scenario. Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, the president pro tempore of the state Senate, would preside over the chamber temporarily if a vacancy occurs. If Northam were to resign after appointing a new lieutenant governor, that appointee would become governor.
A week ago, it appeared Fairfax would be elevated to governor as Northam was engulfed in a shocking scandal over a racist photo that appeared on his page in a 1984 medical school yearbook and his admission that he appeared in blackface as Michael Jackson for a dance contest that same year.
Herring, who is second in line to become governor, on Saturday called for Northam to resign and signaled his strong support for Fairfax. On Wednesday morning, Herring became embroiled in a scandal of his own after he acknowledged he wore blackface to dress as a rapper while at the University of Virginia. The attorney general said he would think over his future and whether he can remain in office, but no elected Democrats have gone so far as to call for his resignation.
With Northam and Herring showing no signs of stepping down, Fairfax finds himself in a worsening situation that has created an uneasy situation for Democrats who have adopted “believe survivors” as a mantra for the #MeToo movement.
A Duke classmate of Watson, Kaneedreck Adams, told The Washington Post in a story published Friday evening that Watson came to her crying in the spring of 2000. Adams, according to the Post, lived across from Watson in on-campus apartments while they attended Duke University.
“She was upset,” Adams told the Post. “She told me she had been raped and she named Justin.”
Adams told the Post that both women were friends with Fairfax and that the alleged attack happened at a fraternity house.
Watson’s attorney also provided the Post with a 2016 email exchange between Watson and another friend from Duke, Milagros Joye Brown. According to the Post, Brown had invited a group of Duke friends to a fundraiser for Fairfax as he began his campaign for lieutenant governor.
“Molly, Justin raped me in college and I don’t want to hear anything about him. Please, please, please remove me from any future emails about him please,” Watson wrote in the Oct. 26, 2016, email to Brown, according to the Post.
A source close to Tyson’s legal team said Friday that Tyson is willing to cooperate with an investigation into her accusation against Fairfax.
Tyson’s initial statement indicated she would not be speaking further about her allegation and did not want to be dragged further into a “highly charged political environment.” But her willingness to cooperate with an investigation initiated by a third party could push Virginia officials to try to find a way to hear her out.
Tyson has said the encounter with Fairfax began with consensual kissing but progressed to forced oral sex that left her feeling “deep humiliation and shame.” Fairfax, who was unmarried in 2004, has insisted the encounter was fully consensual, saying he has “never done anything like what she suggests.”
Unlike the controversy surrounding the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, there is no clear mechanism in Virginia for trying to get to the bottom of a sexual assault allegation emerging long after the events in question. The FBI had already performed a background check into Kavanaugh after he was nominated for the court. The FBI reopened that investigation for a narrow examination of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her as teenager.
On Thursday night, the VLBC said Tyson’s allegation against Fairfax should be “fully and thoroughly investigated by the appropriate agencies.”
Asked Friday morning who might perform such an investigation, Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, the head of the VLBC, said he didn’t know.
Under state law, the Virginia State Police can investigate “any matter” referred to the agency by the governor. But the agency’s powers are typically limited to potential criminal acts within Virginia’s borders.
In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for alleged sexual assaults is 15 years. Tyson’s statement said the encounter occurred on July 28, 2004, during the Democratic National Convention, falling just inside that window. Tyson did not file a police report in 2004, and it’s not clear if Boston authorities will pursue the matter.
“With regard to potential investigations, we simply don’t discuss them in the absence of criminal charges,” said Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins. “And at this stage there are no charges related to that incident.”
The Virginia General Assembly could hold hearings or conduct its own fact-finding effort.
House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, declined to comment Friday morning on how an investigation into Tyson’s allegation could be carried out, saying she had to get to a meeting of the House Finance Committee.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch generally does not publish the names of alleged victims of sexual assault but began to use Tyson’s and Watson’s names when they came forward.