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Second sexual assault claim triggers call for Fairfax impeachment

The allegation is the second claim of sexual assault this week against Democratic Virginia Gov. Justin Fairfax. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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Top Democrats are calling on Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to resign. He has denied the allegations.

Updated

RICHMOND, Va. — A second woman has accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, triggering calls for his resignation and impeachment from fellow Democrats.

Fairfax forcefully denied the accusation Friday but hemorrhaged support as he faced resignation calls from the Democratic state House and Senate caucuses, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and several presidential candidates.

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Also, a Democratic state House member pledged to submit articles of impeachment against Fairfax if he did not resign by Monday.

The new accuser, Meredith Watson, also called on Fairfax to quit.

“Mr. Fairfax’s attack was premeditated and aggressive,” Watson said through her attorney in a letter issued Friday. Watson’s lawyer said she attended Duke University with Fairfax in 2000 when the alleged attack happened and that she has statements from friends and electronic messages corroborating her account.

Watson indicated that she decided to come forward after California college professor Vanessa Tyson issued a public statement Wednesday that said Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex in his hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Fairfax denied that allegation with a written statement of his own Wednesday that said survivors of sexual assault must be given “the space and support to voice their stories.”

Fairfax’s Friday statement in response to Watson’s allegation was more combative.

“It is obvious that a vicious and coordinated smear campaign is being orchestrated against me,” Fairfax said, demanding an investigation to clear his name and calling Watson’s charge “demonstrably false.”

The shocking new claim against Fairfax capped a disastrous week for all three statewide elected Virginia officials, all of whom are Democrats: Fairfax, Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring. Both Northam and Herring were damaged by revelations they once donned blackface in 1984 and 1980, respectively.

Amid that triple crisis, the Republican majority leader of the state Senate, Tommy Norment, was accused of editing a Virginia Military Institute yearbook filled with racist imagery and language in 1969.

The crush of news left Virginia politicians stunned, though many Democrats in the state and nationally withheld calling for Fairfax’s resignation, muting their prior stance in favor of sexual assault accusers that they took during the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The National Organization for Women, however, demanded Fairfax quit. And, on Friday, former McAuliffe joined the call after the second accusation, from Watson.

“The allegations against Justin Fairfax are serious and credible. It is clear to me that he can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia as Lieutenant Governor. I call for his immediate resignation,” McAuliffe said in a written statement.

Virginia’s two sitting U.S. senators, former governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, did not immediately comment.

Democratic state Rep. Patrick Hope of Arlington said Fairfax needs to leave or be forced to leave office.

“On Monday, I will be introducing articles of impeachment for Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax if he has not resigned before then,” Hope wrote on Twitter.

If Fairfax leaves office, Northam — or whoever the sitting governor is — has the right to appoint a new lieutenant governor. However, the appointment would be short-lived: An election would be held in November, when the entire state legislature is up for election, to fill out the remaining two years of Fairfax’s original four-year lieutenant governor term.

Republicans, who narrowly control the General Assembly, have signaled they would follow Democrats’ lead concerning the three statewide elected Democrats. Republican leaders in the state Senate called for an investigation.

“For the second time this week, Lieutenant Governor Fairfax has been accused of actions that, if true, constitute major felonies in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” they said in a written statement. “We are shocked and dismayed by these credible and serious allegations. These accusations necessitate comprehensive, thorough, and immediate investigations by law enforcement authorities in Massachusetts and North Carolina.”

Northam, who had also faced calls for his resignation over the blackface scandal, sent a letter to all state employees Friday announcing that he would remain in office. “You have placed your trust in me to lead Virginia forward and I plan to do that,” he wrote.

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The offices of Northam and Herring did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the second assault allegation against Fairfax.

Watson’s lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith — who successfully represented Gretchen Carlson in her sexual harassment suit against former Fox News executive Roger Ailes — didn’t provide explicit details of her encounter with Fairfax. Her statement said that “the two were friends but never dated or had any romantic relationship.”

“The details of Ms. Watson’s attack are similar to those described by Dr. Vanessa Tyson,” according to Watson’s lawyer. “Ms. Watson was upset to learn that Mr. Fairfax raped at least one other woman after he attacked her.”

Fairfax drew attention to word of Tyson’s claims early Sunday when he issued a statement proactively denying the allegations and threatening to take legal action. Though Tyson wasn’t named at the time, Fairfax falsely claimed that the Washington Post had decided not to run a story about her accusations last year due to inconsistencies in her account.

Fairfax also attributed political motives to the allegations as they started to resurface just after the controversy began engulfing Northam.

Watson’s lawyer said that she “shared her account of the rape with friends in a series of emails and Facebook messages.”

The electronic messages date back to 2016 when Watson told a college friend to stop sending her messages about Fairfax’s political career because of the assault.

“Justin raped me in college and I don’t want to hear anything about him. Please, please, please remove me from any future emails about him please. Thank you!” she said in an Oct. 25, 2016 email provided by Watson’s attorney.

“We have statements from former classmates corroborating that Ms. Watson immediately told friends that Mr. Fairfax had raped her,” her attorney said.

Watson, her lawyer said, “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.”

Zach Montellaro contributed to this report.

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