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Virginia House Republicans plan hearings on Justin Fairfax sexual assault allegations

Lieutenant governor calls hearings “partisan,” doesn’t say if he’ll participate

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates have decided to invite Democratic Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and two women who have accused him of sexual assault to air their versions of events in a public hearing.

Delegate Rob Bell, the chair of the House Courts of Justice Committee, announced the planned hearings Friday, in a speech on the House floor.

“This will give all parties a chance to be heard,” he said.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax

However, a date for the hearing and details about the format were not announced. And while both women indicated they would participate, Fairfax’s office issued a statement characterizing the hearing as “partisan” and leaving his participation an open question.

“House Republicans want to pursue this historically unprecedented course of action because the accused is a popularly elected Democrat,” said Fairfax spokeswoman Lauren Burke in a statement. “The path to finding truth and justice should be based on due process and the work of law enforcement professionals.”

The legislature’s current session ends on Saturday, although committees can meet between sessions. House Speaker Kirk Cox said the hearing announced by Bell was not an impeachment hearing, leaving it unclear if lawmakers could force Fairfax to testify.

The decision to organize a hearing marks a change in tactics for Republicans, who have been relatively silent over the past two weeks as Democrats have wrestled with how to deal with allegations of rape and sexual assault against a man who had been considered a rising star in their party.

Both the Democratic Party of Virginia and the commonwealth’s Legislative Black Caucus have called on Fairfax to resign, as have many of the party’s 2020 White House contenders.

Vanessa Tyson, a college professor in California, has alleged that Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex in a Boston hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Meredith Watson, who now lives in Maryland, has accused Fairfax of raping her in 2000, when they were classmates at Duke University in North Carolina.

Fairfax, 40, a former federal prosecutor elected lieutenant governor in 2017, has denied both allegations and called on the FBI to investigate.

The age of the allegations and the fact that neither alleged assault took place in Virginia have complicated efforts to investigate, leaving it unclear which law enforcement agency might have the authority to do so.

Cox had proposed a special investigative committee, with an equal number of members from both parties and subpoena power, but the plan stalled when Democrats would not agree.

Bell’s committee has 10 Republicans and eight Democrats.

Watson’s attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, released a statement saying Watson was “gratified” by the decision to schedule a hearing and “looks forward to testifying at this forum.”

Smith also said it was her understanding that the hearing would be televised and that Watson would be able to call witnesses to corroborate her account.

Tyson’s lawyers also indicated she was “prepared to testify,” although she would prefer a bipartisan committee to avoid a “highly charged political environment.”

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