Legislators need to hear Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson’s accusations against Virginia’s lieutenant governor
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Collective amnesia is on display these days in Richmond, where Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and Democrats in the House of Delegates are resisting calls to allow two women who have accused Fairfax of sexual assault to testify publicly.
Instead of the public testimony by his accusers, Fairfax wants prosecutors in North Carolina and Boston — where the alleged assaults took place — to investigate cases that are 19 and 15 years old, respectively, knowing full well that said prosecutors have absolutely no incentive to get involved in cases that involve no one now living in their jurisdictions and are unlikely to lead to criminal prosecution.
Fairfax knows this because he used to be a prosecutor. He has also trotted out results of two polygraph tests that he passed as proof of vindication, conveniently ignoring the fact that there is a reason these tests aren’t allowed in court — because every scientific study that has looked at the technology has concluded it’s not reliable.
Virginia House Democrats are resisting public testimony because, in the words of Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, the hearing proposed by Republicans would turn into “a politically motivated and unprecedented spectacle.”
Unprecedented? Really? Why, it’s as if they don’t remember Brett Kavanagh and Christine Blasey Ford.
Advocates in the #MeToo movement have also long asserted, with considerable justification, that victims of sexual assault should be believed because they have nothing to gain, and a lot to lose, from cooking up false claims against powerful men. And multiple claims increase credibility because they corroborate a pattern of behavior (just ask Al Franken and Roy Moore, neither of whom is a senator.)
In this case, Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson — who did not know each other and had never met before being swept up in this maelstrom — tell remarkably similar stories. How Fairfax disarmed them with friendliness, got them alone, and then pounced on them using physical force. How he may have targeted them because he knew both women had suffered sexual abuse in their pasts. How traumatized both women still are, more than 15 years later.
To dismiss their claims, you have to believe that these two women, one living in California and the other living in Maryland, both decided to make up similar allegations against the same man years later; in Watson’s case, you also have to believe that she told people Fairfax assaulted her back in 2000 (as she says she did) in anticipation, apparently, of the day she would spring her sinister trap and make him pay.
For what reason? To what end? Fairfax himself has not speculated on this. But surely he must have a theory. Why do Tyson and Watson feel such white hot hatred toward him that they would put themselves in jeopardy for revenge, years and years after their interactions with him?
One theory that has emerged with a vengeance on social media is that this is all an effort by Republicans to bring down a powerful black man rising through the political ranks. But these women are unlikely conspirators — Watson and Tyson are also black, and Tyson met Fairfax when both were working at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Perhaps the most pernicious bit of nonsense in all of this is the assertion being made, mostly on social media, that because Watson had accused another man of rape before accusing Fairfax, she is somehow less credible. So, rather than saying, “Oh my God, this poor woman has been raped twice,” we should say, “this b**** must be making this up”? Does that make any sense, particularly when Watson claims that Fairfax himself told her that he thought her previous rape would make her less likely to call police?
Or does it make more sense to conclude that Fairfax did what he’s accused of doing and is now paddling furiously to save what’s left of his political career?
In his recent news conference where he released the polygraph results, Fairfax said, “Let me begin by emphasizing how important it is to listen to women when they come forward withe allegations of sexual assault or harassment.” OK, if you truly believe that, then what possible reason can Democrats have for not letting Tyson and Watson testify publicly and letting the chips fall where they may? After all, Brett Kavanaugh sits on the Supreme Court today.
Letting Tyson and Watson and Fairfax all testify before legislators would, no doubt, create a media circus. But what is the alternative? Prosecutors in North Carolina and Boston probably won’t, and certainly shouldn’t, waste their time and taxpayers’ money investigating claims that aren’t likely to lead to a criminal prosecution. And this is no longer about whether Fairfax should go to jail — it’s about whether he’s fit to remain in high political office, a question that certainly falls under the purview of Virginia legislators.
The legal standard is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But the political standard is, do we believe these women? And if we do, what should happen to Justin Fairfax?
In the Kavanaugh case, Republicans did not let credible allegations keep him from a lifetime on the Supreme Court. But at least they allowed Ford to have her say and let the public judge her credibility. Do Watson and Tyson deserve any less?
Virginia House Republicans have been reluctant to proceed with hearings without Democratic participation, no doubt because doing so would be seen as nakedly partisan. But should Democratic recalcitrance trump the need to fully and publicly vet serious, credible allegations against the second most powerful man in state government?
And can anyone say, with a straight face, how much we need to listen to sexual assault victims while at the same time thwarting efforts to let them be heard?