- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2019

RICHMOND — A Democratic state lawmaker hit the brakes Monday on plans to file articles of impeachment against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax for allegedly raping two women when he was in his 20s.

Del. Patrick Hope said that “additional conversations” were needed after he sent colleagues draft language of a bill to start the impeachment process.

“There has been an enormous amount of sincere and thoughtful feedback which has led to additional conversations that need to take place before anything is filed,” tweeted Mr. Hope, a Democrat representing Arlington.

He stressed that he believed the two women, Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, who accuse Mr. Fairfax of raping them in the 2000s.

Last week, when announcing plans to pursue impeachment if Mr. Fairfax did not resign, Mr. Hope said the lieutenant governor had lost his ability to lead.

The next steps are now unclear.

Democrats from Washington to Richmond struggled with the response to the rape allegations involving Mr. Fairfax in the #MeToo era before a second accuser came forward, prompting an avalanche of resignation calls.

The jeopardy confronting Mr. Fairfax, a 39-year-old rising star in the party, is part of a political crisis overtaking Virginia’s Democratic leaders. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring stand accused of racism for wearing blackface in the 1980s, and the governor is defying his party’s calls for him to step down.

“Right now, Virginia needs someone that can heal. There’s no better person to do that than a doctor,” Mr. Northam, a physician, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” later adding, “I’m not going anywhere.”

Mr. Fairfax, the party’s top black elected official in Virginia, has vehemently denied ever raping anyone and vowed to fight to clear his name.

Lawyers for Ms. Tyson and Ms. Watson did not immediately respond to the delay of the impeachment process.

The two women have said they are ready to testify before the General Assembly to rebut Mr. Fairfax’s denials and help force him out of office.

“The one thing I want to make abundantly clear is that in both situations I knew at the time, and I know today, that the interactions were consensual,” Mr. Fairfax said in a recent statement.

His repeated claim that he did nothing wrong and that he was the victim of a political “smear” only emboldened his accusers.

Ms. Watson stands ready, although it will be painful, to tell the Virginia Legislature what Mr. Fairfax did to her when she was 20 years old,” Nancy Erika Smith, Ms. Watson’s lawyer, said in a statement.

Ms. Watson also is considering involving police in North Carolina, where the alleged attack took place in 2000 and where there is no statute of limitations for felony crimes, including rape.

The disgrace tarnishing the state’s leaders could sour voters on Democrats in an election year in which every General Assembly seat is up for grabs, likely helping Republicans hold on to a thin majority.

A backlash from black and female voters could even affect the 2020 elections in a state that only recently realigned from Republican to Democratic.

Adding to the sting of racism and rape allegations, the Democratic candidate in a special election for Virginia House apologized last week for anti-Israel comments made five years ago.

Ibraheem Samirah, who was born in the U.S. but calls himself a “second-generation Palestinian refugee,” said the offensive comments he wrote on Facebook were musings of his college mind. He said he regrets it, apologized for adding “to the pain of the Jewish community” and asked for understanding.

Mr. Samirah, a dentist, is running against Republican Greg Nelson and independent candidate Connie Haines Hutchinson in what will be the Democrats’ first test since the scandals began to pile up.

Mr. Fairfax’s two accusers have told compelling stories.

Ms. Tyson, who was the first to come forward a week ago, alleged that Mr. Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him when they met as campaign aides at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Ms. Watson alleged a similar attack when she and Mr. Fairfax were students at Duke University. She also claims to be able to corroborate her story with documents and witnesses that she told of the attack at the time.

Over the weekend, Mr. Fairfax said he would fight to clear his name and that he wanted an FBI investigation into the women’s allegations.

“I say this again without reservation: I did not sexually assault or rape Meredith Watson, Vanessa Tyson or anyone else,” he said.

He added, “This has been a devastating week for my family. It has been an especially devastating time for the great Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Mr. Fairfax and his wife, Cerina Fairfax, have been married since 2006 and have two children.

The lieutenant governor previously acknowledged having sex with Ms. Tyson, saying he was single, in his 20s, and it was “100 percent consensual.” In his latest statement, he acknowledged for the first time having sex with Ms. Watson and claimed it, too, was a consensual encounter.

“Lt. Gov. Fairfax’s assertion that these sexual assaults were consensual, while simultaneously trying both on and off the record to discredit the victims, says all you need to know about his lack of fitness to serve in public office,” said Debra S. Katz and Lisa J. Banks, lawyers for Ms. Tyson.

Ms. Watson’s lawyer said Mr. Fairfax’s request for an FBI probe was a ruse.

“He knows as a former prosecutor, that the FBI has no jurisdiction over this matter. Indeed, my client may contact North Carolina authorities about a possible criminal prosecution,” she said. “For real due process, not hidden from the public, we invite Mr. Fairfax to join Ms. Watson and her witnesses in testifying at an impeachment hearing.”

Mr. Fairfax’s reaction to the allegations has alternated between heated and tempered.

Mr. Fairfax reportedly called Ms. Watson a “nut” who also claimed she was raped by a Duke basketball player.

The comments drew a rebuke from Ms. Watson’s lawyer, who added more detail to her client’s rape allegations.

Ms. Watson was raped by a basketball player during her sophomore year at Duke. She went to the Dean, who provided no help and discouraged her from pursuing the claim further. Ms. Watson also told friends, including Justin Fairfax,” Ms. Smith said.

She said Mr. Fairfax then used this prior basketball-player assault against Ms. Watson, as he explained to her during the only encounter she had with him after the purported rape.

“She left a campus party when he arrived, and he followed her out. 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,’ ” according to the account provided by Ms. Smith.

“Like he is smearing Dr. Vanessa Tyson, Mr. Fairfax is now smearing Ms. Watson. That’s shameful,” Ms. Smith said. “The smears on victims of sexual assault have to stop. Why would any woman come forward with information about a powerful man knowing that he and his supporters will stop at nothing to smear and discredit them? Women come forward to support one another and to stop the culture of rape that is even more pervasive than we acknowledge.”

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