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'Everyone deserves to be heard,' Va. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax says; Dems explore impeachment

| Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, 10:57 a.m.
Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. (Washington Post photo by Katherine Frey)
The Washington Post
Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. (Washington Post photo by Katherine Frey)

RICHMOND, Va. — Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax said he will not step down and will preside over the Senate on Monday regardless of any attempts to remove him from office amid allegations that he sexually assaulted two women.

In a telephone interview with The Washington Post Sunday night, as fellow Democrats considered launching impeachment proceedings against him, Fairfax repeated his claim that he did not sexually assault his two accusers or anyone else.

The two women deserve to be heard, but at the same time, he deserves due process, Fairfax said.

“Even in the most difficult times, including ones like these, that’s when it’s most important to adhere to our highest values as Americans,” he said. “And 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…. Everyone deserves to be heard… . even when faced with those allegations, I am still standing up for everyone’s right to be heard. But I’m also standing up for due process.”

House Democrats held a conference call later Sunday night and decided to slow down the impeachment effort amid questions about the proper procedure and viability of such a plan given that the alleged offenses did not take place during his tenure as lieutenant governor.

Fairfax sounded upbeat and relaxed during the interview. Asked if he was going to resign, he said flatly, “No.”

He spent the weekend in Northern Virginia with his family. He and his wife went to services at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria on Sunday morning, where he said they were well received. Their pastor recognized the couple was in attendance during the service, but made no explicit reference to the scandal, Fairfax said.

“It was a really moving and uplifting celebration,” he said. “It’s a place of comfort. And then my wife and I were recognized in the church…, we were overwhelmed with emotion and the outpouring of support, and all the words of support.”

He said he and his wife, a dentist he married years after the two alleged assaults that Fairfax described as consensual, “continue to be strong and lean on our faith.”

Fairfax has previously suggested that he was the victim of a smear campaign. Asked in the interview who might be behind such an effort and why the two accusers might make false allegations, he said only that he was “laser focused” on doing his job as lieutenant governor and “getting the truth out.”

Tyson, a California professor, says Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him after they met at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Watson, who lives in Maryland, says Fairfax sexually assaulted her when they were undergraduate students at Duke University. Neither reported the alleged assaults to law enforcement.

Tyson and Watson, who have separate legal representation, have both said through their lawyers that they are willing to publicly testify during impeachment proceedings.

Asked why these women would come forward if they are lying, he said, “I would just say right now, the paramount issue is having the truth come out,” he said.

In a follow-up text Monday morning, a Fairfax staffer stressed that the lieutenant governor would like to see “due process on both sides for everyone involved” and that “there needs to be space for both sides to tell their side of the story.”

In the interview, Fairfax reiterated his call for the FBI or some other independent law-enforcement entity to investigate. Tyson’s attorney has said the FBI would have no jurisdiction in either case, because the alleged crimes are not federal in nature.

Asked if he or his team had taken any steps to initiate an investigation, Fairfax said that he has meeting with his attorneys but cannot talk about those discussions.

The now-paused attempt to impeach Fairfax would have been unprecedented; there has been no attempt to impeach an elected official in the state in modern times that Virginia political observers could recall.

Some high-profile Virginia Democrats, including Gov. Ralph Northam, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner and Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, say Fairfax should step down if the allegations are proven true, stopping short of an outright call for resignation.

Northam, D, and Attorney General Mark Herring, D, are embroiled in separate controversies after having admitted to wearing blackface in the 1980s, but neither faces the threat of impeachment. That has created another uncomfortable dynamic for Democrats as they ponder whether to force out Fairfax, a rising African American star in their party, while white men accused of racism stay in office.

As the part-time lieutenant governor, Fairfax presides over the closely divided state Senate during the legislative session and can break ties on certain votes.

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