- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2019

Virginia House Republicans on Friday announced plans for a public hearing where Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and the two women who accuse him of rape can testify.

Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, who made separate allegations that Mr. Fairfax raped them more than a decade ago, had feared the General Assembly would adjourn Friday without taking action.

Republican Delegate Robert B. Bell announced the move on the House floor.

“This will give all parties a chance to be heard,” Mr. Bell said.

The House Courts of Justice Committee will provide the venue for the accusers, Ms. Tyson and Ms. Watson, to tell their stories and for Mr. Fairfax to defend himself.

After widespread calls for Mr. Fairfax to resign — but with lawmakers from both parties hesitant to take action — the announcement of hearings quickly spawned a political feud.

Ms. Tyson alleges 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 said she was the victim of a similar attack by Mr. Fairfax in 2000, when they were students at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

In response, Mr. Fairfax, a Democrat, insisted that the encounters with both women were consensual and that he is the target of a political smear.

Mr. Fairfax’s spokeswoman called the hearings a partisan attack.

“This week, House Republicans voted overwhelmingly against the ERA. Now suddenly the same Republicans want to distract the public from their record of opposition to women’s rights by engaging in political theater,” said Fairfax spokeswoman Lauren Burke.

She said Mr. Fairfax continues to want to clear his name with “a full, fair, independent, impartial, and non-political investigation by law enforcement.”

“House Republicans want to pursue this historically unprecedented course of action because the accused is a popularly elected Democrat,” Ms. Burke said. “The path to finding truth and justice should be based on due process and the work of law enforcement professionals. The lieutenant governor is confident that the truth will exonerate him.”

Ms. Tyson’s lawyers said she is prepared to testify but “does not want to be embroiled in a highly charged political environment.”

“It is the duty of the leaders on both sides of the aisle in Virginia to establish a bipartisan path forward that provides for due process for everyone involved and facilitates a thorough examination of the allegations. If the Legislature truly believes that all sides deserve to be heard and taken seriously, its leaders will come together and determine an appropriate process,” lawyers Debra S. Katz and Lisa J. Banks said in a statement.

The Republican majority pushed forward with a hearing after Democratic lawmakers halted plans for impeachment hearings for Mr. Fairfax.

Republican and Democrats suffered criticism for inaction, with both parties claiming they didn’t have the resources to investigate or hold hearings.

The rape allegations added to a whirlwind of controversy for Virginia’s top elected Democrats. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Harris are accused of racism for separate incidents of wearing blackface in the 1980s.

Similar to Mr. Fairfax, the governor is bucking widespread calls for his resignation, including from his own party and most Democratic presidential candidates.

The rape accusations against Mr. Fairfax, however, have ramifications beyond his political career. He could face criminal charges and, if convicted, up to 20 or 25 years in prison in Massachusetts and North Carolina, respectively.

Earlier this week, the Virginia House Democratic Caucus released a statement explaining that law enforcement and not lawmakers should conduct an investigation.

House Speaker Kirk Cox said Democrats asked him Thursday to sign on to a statement declaring a General Assembly investigation was “impossible.” He offered instead to convene a special Courts of Justice Committee hearing.

Democrats called foul after Republicans announced the hearing and circulated a press release with the headline “ICYMI: Every way the Virginia House Democrats said no to reviewing sexual assault allegations against Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax.”

“House Democrats were among the first to call for Lieutenant Governor Fairfax’s resignation after the allegations were revealed, and we have maintained our view that the allegations need to be taken seriously. Moreover, Democratic leadership had simply requested a clear plan for a joint approach. Instead, we were met first with silence, and then with press releases,” said Kathryn Gilley, spokeswoman for the Virginia House Democratic Caucus.

She said House Republicans were “politicizing” the serious, criminal allegations.

“All parties involved deserve better,” Ms. Gilley said.

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