Democratic Party of Virginia wants Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax out amid sexual assault claims
Virginia lawmaker Patrick Hope said late on Friday that he would introduce articles of impeachment for Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax on Monday "if he has not resigned before then." (Feb. 9)
Critical support for embattled Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax collapsed Saturday when the Democratic Party of Virginia called on him to resign following a second allegation of sexual assault.
The Democratic Party of Virginia said in a statement that Fairfax "no longer has our confidence or support. He must resign."
But later Saturday, Fairfax issued a statement again denying the allegations and saying his encounters with the women were consensual. He made clear he is not immediately resigning and called for “space in this moment for due process.”
He’s also calling for authorities, including the FBI, to investigate.
The statement issued by Democratic Party of Virginia chair Susan Swecker said that in light of the "credible nature" of the latest claims against Fairfax, "it has become clear that he can no longer fulfill the duties and responsibilities of his post."
The possibly lethal blow from the state party came only hours after the Virginia Legislative Caucus and Democrats in both houses of the legislature reversed course and called for the Fairfax to resign.
One state legislator, Patrick Hope, a Democrat, has vowed to begin impeachment proceedings on Monday if Fairfax does not step down immediately.
The about-face by party leaders and legislators came only hours after Meredith Watson said in a statement through her lawyers that Fairfax raped her while they were students at Duke University in 2000.
On Saturday night, Watson's attorney released a statement saying Watson would be willing to testify at an impeachment hearing.
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Fairfax, one of three top Virginia Democrats embroiled in political scandal, said Friday he would not step down and demanded an investigation into the claims.
"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," Fairfax said in a statement. "It is obvious that a vicious and coordinated smear campaign is being orchestrated against me."
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which stood by the 39-year-old African American following the first accusation, said in a statement late Friday that "it is best for Lt. Governor Fairfax to step down from his position."
While the group said it believes in due process,"we can't see it in the best interest of the Commonwealth of Virginia for (Fairfax) to remain in his role."
In addition, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a Democrat, called for the lieutenant governor's resignation, as have six of the state's seven Democratic U.S. House members.
The firestorm around Fairfax follows a tumultuous week in Virginia politics, with Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, first acknowledging then denying that he appeared in a photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook that showed a man in blackface standing by a man dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. He did acknowledge using blackface in impersonating Michael Jackson in a dance contest that same year.
He has refused widespread calls for his resignation.
In his first interview since the scandal erupted, Northam told The Washington Post Saturday that he had "overreacted"by putting out a statement taking blame for the picture. He said that an “independent investigation” being conducted by Virginia Medical School is aimed at establishing the facts in the case.
He said he wants to focus the rest of his term on racial equity.
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"This has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia," he told the Post. "It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes.”
Shortly after the first accusation surfaced against Fairfax, Attorney General Mark Herring, a 57-year-old Democrat, volunteered that he had appeared in blackface at a party at the University of Virginia in the 1980s.
The last accusation against the lieutenant governor follows a previous claim by a one-time colleague, Vanessa Tyson, who accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex in a hotel room during the 2004 Democratic national convention in Boston. Fairfax denied the charge of sexual assault, calling his sexual encounter with Tyson consensual.
In a statement Friday, Watson's lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, said Fairfax and her client were friends in college but didn't date. Watson told her friends at the time that Fairfax raped her and has provided her lawyers with emails and Facebook messages detailing her account of the rape, Smith said.
After Fairfax's strong denial of the charges as part of a smear campaign, Watson's attorney issued a second statement pushing back on Fairfax's denial.
In college, Watson went to Fairfax after she had been previously raped by someone else, Smith said. Later, after Fairfax allegedly raped Watson, they had an interaction outside a campus party, Smith said.
"She turned and asked: 'Why did you do it?' Mr. Fairfax answered: 'I knew that because of what happened to you last year, you’d be too afraid to say anything.' Mr. Fairfax actually used the prior rape of his 'friend' against her when he chose to rape her in a premeditated way," Smith said in the second statement.
Duke campus police have no criminal reports naming Fairfax, university spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said. Durham police spokesman Will Glenn also said he couldn't find a report in the department's system on the 2000 allegation.
Kaneedreck Adams, 40, told The Washington Post that Watson told her at Duke in spring 2000 that Fairfax raped her at a fraternity house.
"She said she couldn’t speak, but she was trying to get up and he kept pushing her down," Adams, who reportedly lived across from Watson, told the newspaper. "She said he knew that she didn’t like what was happening, but he kept pushing her down."
Adams described Fairfax, who was a year ahead of them in school, as a "nice sweet charming guy."
"We all knew he wanted to be in politics," she told the Post. "He had a reputation for being very friendly. Some of my friends, we called him sunshine."
The Post also reported that Watson emailed Milagros Joye Brown, a college friend, in 2016 as Brown invited former classmates to a fundraiser for Fairfax's lieutenant governor bid.
"Molly, Justin raped me in college and I don’t want to hear anything about him. Please, please, please remove me form any future emails about him please," Watson reportedly wrote in the Oct. 26, 2016 email.
Contributing: A.J. Perez, Ryan W. Miller, Christal Hayes and the Associated Press