The Democratic caucus in the Virginia House of Delegates said Tuesday that the sexual assault allegations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax should be investigated by law enforcement without the General Assembly’s involvement.
“We believe that the law enforcement investigation should proceed unencumbered and outside of the political arena,” the caucus said in a statement.
A few hours later, House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said the prospect of having legislative hearings is “becoming more compelling” and “should be seriously considered.”
“We are actively working to develop that process and hope our Democrat colleagues will work with us moving forward,” Cox said.
Though both parties said they’re committed to finding a bipartisan way forward, the two statements indicate a clear difference of opinion on who should take the lead in investigating the allegations.
On Monday, The Washington Post published an op-ed from Meredith Watson, one of the two Fairfax accusers, who has called for the General Assembly to hold public hearings at which Fairfax and his accusers could testify. Watson criticized the legislature for “inaction” in response to her allegation and suggested a law enforcement investigation could invite attacks on her character and end with “inconclusive results.”
Watson’s lawyer blasted the Democrats’ stance in a new statement Tuesday evening.
“Ms. Watson is counting on the General Assembly to do the right thing and hold hearings now,” said Watson attorney Nancy Erika Smith. “These nonstop efforts to duck their role is pure cowardice. Sympathy is welcome, but action is needed.”
Watson has accused Fairfax of raping her in 2000 at Duke University. A second woman, California professor Vanessa Tyson, has said Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2004 in a Boston hotel room.
Fairfax has said both encounters were consensual. He has called on the FBI to investigate and has said a legislative probe would be politicized and unlikely to get to the truth.
In their statement, House Democrats said the allegations, which Fairfax has adamantly denied, are primarily a law enforcement matter.
“Given the allegations, it is appropriate that the Suffolk County District Attorney in Massachusetts has offered to investigate. We would hope any other jurisdictions involved would follow Massachusetts’ lead,” the Democrats said.
The House has the power to initiate impeachment proceedings against Fairfax and hold hearings about his conduct, but lawmakers are divided on whether the part-time legislature has the proper investigative tools to wade into the allegations against Fairfax.
Senate Republicans have also said the accusations should be investigated by law enforcement, but neither accuser has filed a criminal complaint.
Breaking with his caucus, Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, who tried to introduce a Fairfax impeachment resolution to spark legislative hearings, said he doesn’t see law enforcement investigations as “anything plausible” for the accusers.
“I don’t believe that’s an avenue that they want to pursue,” Hope said. “And they’ve been very clear about asking the General Assembly to take a leadership role in this.”
The Democratic caucus said it “respects all survivors” and is treating the allegations “with the seriousness they deserve.”
“As such, the House Democratic Caucus has called on Lt. Governor Fairfax to resign,” the caucus said. “We are willing to work in a bipartisan manner with members of the General Assembly on a path forward.”