RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia House Republicans have announced plans to hold a public hearing where Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and the two women who have recently accused him of sexual assault can testify, a move that will likely inflame a partisan battle over the General Assembly’s role in investigating the allegations.
Republican Del. Rob Bell said Friday that the House Courts of Justice Committee will invite Vanessa Tyson, Meredith Watson and Fairfax at an unnamed future hearing date.
“This will give all parties a chance to be heard,” Bell said in brief remarks on the House floor.
He added that Republicans believe they have a duty to investigate the allegations made against the lieutenant governor, who is first in line to replace the governor in the event of a vacancy.
Democrats have said they don’t believe the General Assembly is the best place to investigate the allegations at this time and said they don’t want to impede possible criminal investigations.
Earlier this month, Tyson publicly accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex in his hotel room during the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004. Her lawyer said last week that Tyson plans to meet with prosecutors in Massachusetts to detail her allegations.
“Rather than have the cart before the horse, there should be the criminal process — have it play itself out — because it’s going to make the political response appropriate to the circumstances,” Democratic Del. Joe Lindsey said Friday morning, before the Republicans made their announcement.
Meredith Watson also publicly accused Fairfax of sexual assault after Tyson came forward. Watson issued a statement accusing him of raping her 19 years ago while they were students at Duke University.
Watson said Friday that she is “gratified” by the Republicans’ offer and looks forward to testifying, according to a statement issued by her attorney, Nancy Erika Smith.
The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they are victims of sexual assault, but both women have come forward voluntarily.
Fairfax has emphatically denied both accusations. He’s vowed to clear his name against what he described as a “vicious and coordinated smear campaign” being orchestrated against him. The lieutenant governor in Virginia is largely a ceremonial role but is first in line to become governor if there’s a vacancy.
The accusations against Fairfax surfaced during an unprecedented time of turmoil in Virginia politics earlier this month. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, both Democrats, have separately faced calls to resign after acknowledging they dressed in blackface decades ago. Both have indicated they also plan to remain in office.