The top three Democrats in Virginia are embroiled in scandals; two over offensive racial depictions, and the other over sexual assault accusations.
A second woman has come forward to accuse Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of a “premeditated and aggressive” sexual assault, the latest accusation leveled against him amid calls to resign.
Meredith Watson said in a statement through her lawyers that Fairfax raped her while they were students at Duke University in 2000. The accusation follows a previous claim by a former colleague who says Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2004.
Fairfax has denied both allegations.
The claims cap off a week of tumult in Virginia politics as the state’s top three Democrats have been embroiled in controversy. The state’s governor and attorney general have both admitted to wearing blackface in the 1980s but have rejected calls for them to resign.
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.
Watson also called on Fairfax to resign, Smith said.
“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,” Smith’s statement said. “She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life. Similarly, she is not seeking any financial damages.”
Fairfax, 39, said Friday he would not resign 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,” he said in a statement. “It is obvious that a vicious and coordinated smear campaign is being orchestrated against me.”
In a second statement Friday, Watson’s attorney Smith pushed back against Fairfax’s denial.
In college, Watson went to Fairfax after she had been previously raped by someone else, Smith said. Later, fter 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 Wil Glenn also said he couldn’t find a report in the department’s system on the 2000 allegation.
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Friday said the accusations were “serious and credible” and called on Fairfax to resign.
In a joint statement, five Democratic U.S. representatives from Virginia also asked Fairfax to step down.
“The past seven days have been some of the most painful we can remember. It has been very difficult to marshal the thoughts, let alone the words, to react,” the statement read from Reps. Don Beyer, Abigail Spanberger, Elaine Luria, Jennifer Wexton and Gerry Connolly.
Patrick Hope, a Democrat and Virginia state delegate, said in a tweet he’d introduce articles of impeachment for Fairfax on Monday if the lieutenant governor doesn’t resign.
If Fairfax, as well as Gov. Ralph Northam and the state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, were to step down, Republican Kirk Cox, the speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, would take over leading the state — complicating matters even more for Democrats.
Liberals have taken a zero-tolerance approach to racial transgressions and sexual assault, which was highlighted by the #MeToo movement. But ousting the top three Democrats in the state and leaving Republicans in charge seems to have left liberals in a no-win situation.
But the accusations continue to mount against the state’s top three officials.
Earlier this week, Vanessa Tyson, who worked with Fairfax at the 2004 Democratic national convention in Boston, lodged claims that Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex in a hotel room at the time.
Fairfax on Wednesday called the encounter consensual.
“I wish her no harm or humiliation, nor do I seek to denigrate her or diminish her voice,” the lieutenant governor said. “But I cannot agree with a description of events that I know is not true.”
According to The New York Times, five people say Tyson, a professor at Scripps College in Claremont, California, told them about the assault over the past two years and that her account of the event has been consistent since going public.
Fairfax, according to the Times, said of the 2004 encounter: “We hit it off, she was very interested in me, and so eventually, at one point, we ended up going to my hotel room.”
Tyson said she decided to go public with her charges because of the prospects that Fairfax seemed likely to become the state’s chief executive.
“I felt a jarring sense of both outrage and despair,” Tyson said in a statement Wednesday.
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.
The accusations against Fairfax came amid talks that he might be next in line to take over for Northam after a yearbook photo surfaced showing showing a man in blackface and another person wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe.
At first, Northam acknowledged he was in the photo and apologized. The following day, he denied either person was him, but admitted that he did dress in blackface at a 1984 dance contest in San Antonio for a Michael Jackson costume.
Herring, who is third in line to lead the state, also admitted this week that he, too, donned blackface in the 1980s.
The blackface controversies have forced Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy, to relive its racist roots, something that’s happened far too frequently in the state.
Virginia was also the epicenter of protests over the removal of Confederate monuments and hosted a right-wing rally in 2017 in Charlottesville that turned deadly after a neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Contributing: John Bacon and Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY
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