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GOP Virginia House Speaker Praises ‘Courageous’ Fairfax Accuser, Calls for ‘Bipartisan’ Investigation

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

Kirk Cox, the Republican Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, praised Meredith Watson on Monday for publicly accusing Virginia lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax of rape, and called on state lawmakers to form a “bipartisan consensus” around how best to address accusations of sexual misconduct among their ranks.

Cox was replying to an op-ed Watson published in the Washington Post Monday, in which she chastised politicians and members of the mainstream press for “mov[ing] on” before her claims, and those of fellow accuser Vanessa Tyson, have been adjudicated.

“Despite the professed belief of numerous elected officials in Virginia and elsewhere that Vanessa Tyson, who says that Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2004, and I have brought forward credible allegations, the Virginia General Assembly has not taken the simple and responsible step of arranging the thorough public hearing that we have sought,” Watson wrote. “This is how the culture of sexual assault, harassment and the disempowerment of women persists.”

Watson came forward with her allegation on February 8, days after Vanessa Tyson publicly accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex on him during what began as a consensual sexual encounter in a Boston hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Fairfax has denied ever having sexually assaulted anyone.

In her op-ed, Watson demands a public hearing during which she, Tyson and Fairfax could all be heard, and argues that a closed-door investigation would be insufficient in achieving public reconciliation.

“I am frustrated by calls for an investigation rather than a public hearing into these matters. Such “investigations” are secret proceedings, out of the public eye, leaving victims vulnerable to selective leaks and smears,” she writes. “And we all know how such investigations end: with ‘inconclusive results.’ My privacy has already been violated, yet I am still willing to testify publicly under oath. Tyson has made the same offer. Our plea to the Virginia General Assembly to require the same of Fairfax has been met with inaction.”

Hours after Watson came forward, Democratic Virginia delegate Patrick Hope threatened to file articles of impeachment against Fairfax if he did not immediately resign. Three days after issuing the threat, Hope announced that he would not seek impeachment – a decision he reportedly made after a conference call in which black Virginia lawmakers counseled against a rush to judgment.

Both allegations emerged as Fairfax appeared poised to succeed Ralph Northam as governor of Virginia. Northam was faced with near-unanimous calls to resign from fellow Democrats after a racist photo emerged in his 1984 medical school yearbook.

After initially admitting that he appeared in the photo, which shows one man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan uniform, Northam backtracked and said that, while he didn’t appear in the yearbook photo, he did darken his face for a costume while in college. Virginia attorney general Mark Herring also became embroiled in the scandal earlier this month after admitting that he wore blackface during his time as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia in 1980.

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