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Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax sues CBS over interviews with sexual assault accusers

Fairfax also accuses Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney of involvement in a scheme to make charges public

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

RICHMOND (CFP) — After seven months of publicly fighting politically damaging allegations of sexual assault, Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax has struck back with a $400 million defamation suit against CBS, accusing the network of abandoning “sound, standard journalistic practices” when it aired interviews with Fairfax’s two accusers in April.

In a complaint filed in federal court in Alexandria, Fairfax’s lawyers also accuse CBS of bias in pursing the story because of its “own significant problems with #MeToo scandals” involving three prominent figures forced out at the network over allegations of improper conduct.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax

The complaint also accuses Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney — a fellow African-American Democrat and political rival of Fairfax — of being involved in the effort to make the women’s charges public, an allegation a spokesman for the mayor dismissed as “offensive.”

For good measure, Fairfax also dragged former Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe into the fray, accusing him in the lawsuit of having an interest in derailing Fairfax’s political career and noting he was the was the first major official in Virginia to call on Fairfax to resign after the allegations surfaced.

The complaint said Fairfax is suing “to restore his reputation and clear his name, ensure the truth prevails, [and] stop the weaponization of false allegations of sexual assault against him.”

Because Fairfax is a public figure, winning a defamation lawsuit against CBS will be extraordinarily difficult. He will need to prove not only that the allegations are false but also that CBS knew or didn’t care that they were false — a legal bar that’s almost impossible to clear.

In response to the lawsuit, a CBS spokesperson issued a brief statement saying, “”We stand by our reporting, and we will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”

A lawyer representing Vanessa Tyson, one of Fairfax’s accusers, accused the lieutenant governor of “victim-blaming” and called again for the legislature to hold public hearings on the allegations, which Fairfax and legislative Democrats have resisted.

The sexual assault controversy began in February when Tyson, now a college professor in California, went public with her allegation that he sexually assaulted her in a Boston hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where both were working.

The story first broke on a conservative website Big League Politics, based on information from a private Facebook post made by Tyson.

At the time, Governor Ralph Northam was under pressure to resign after racist photos surfaced on his medical school yearbook page, which would have a made Fairfax Virginia’s governor.

Days later, a second woman, Meredith Watson, came forward to say Fairfax had raped her in 2000, when both were students at Duke University.

CBS anchor Gayle King interviewed both women for segments on network’s morning show, which were heavily promoted and drew significant media attention when their aired in April.

Fairfax has admitted having sex with both women but has insisted the encounters were consensual. His lawsuit alleges that the assault charges were a “politically motivated” tactic to keep Fairfax out of the governor’s chair.

The lawsuit alleges that Tyson allowed her friend Adria Scharf to make the Facebook post public, which got the ball rolling on the assault allegations. Scharf’s husband, Thad Williamson, a former key aide to McAuliffe, is an adviser and close friend of Stoney, as well as a friend and former classmate of Tyson, according to the lawsuit.

Stoney “views Fairfax as a political rival who has been positioned to delay Stoney’s desired run for Governor” in 2021, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint also alleges that Fairfax had been warned in 2018 that if he ran for governor in 2021,  “Stoney, Williamson, and Scharf intended to promote a supposedly damaging, uncorroborated accusation against Fairfax involving Tyson in an attempt to harm Fairfax personally and professionally and to derail his political future.”

A spokesman for Stoney told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the allegations in the lawsuit were “100 percent untrue and frankly, it’s offensive.”

If the lawsuit ever gets to trial, one of CBS’s own lawyers, who was a classmate of Fairfaix and Watson at Duke, may be a key witness in the case.

According to the complaint, after Watson went public with her allegations, the lawyer had text message conversations with Fairfax expressing the view that her charges were false, based on information from someone else whom Fairfax says was an eyewitness to their consensual encounter.

However, the lawyer, who is not named in the suit, did not actually witness the encounter, according to the lawsuit.

The suit also alleges that CBS ignored exculpatory evidence provided by Fairfax’s legal team before the interviews aired and “sought to visibly align itself on the side of perceived victims to improve its public image” in the wake of its own #MeToo scandals.

Three high-ranking CBS figures — Les Moonves, the network’s CEO; Jeff Fager, the executive producer of “60 Minutes;” and morning anchor Charlie Rose — all resigned amid allegations of misconduct.

Northam resisted calls to resign and remains governor. However, under state law, he can’t see re-election in 2021, opening up the seat for competitive primaries in both parties.

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