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Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada resigns over text message scandal

Casada, top aide reportedly exchanged explicit, misogynistic messages about various women

NASHVILLE (CFP) — Bowing to mounting pressure to depart after two weeks of lurid headlines about bad behavior by his top aide, Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada has announced that he will resign his leadership post.

In a brief statement issued May 21, the Franklin Republican said he would meet with his party’s House leadership in early June “to determine the best date for me to resign as speaker so that I can facilitate a smooth transition.”

Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada

The move comes after House Republicans approved a vote of no confidence in Casada and Republican Governor Bill Lee threatened to call the legislature into to special session to remove him as speaker.

Casada, 59, who has served in the legislature since 2003, became speaker in January. He plans to remain a member of the House.

The current speaker pro tempore, Bill Dunn of Knoxville, will become speaker upon Casada’s departure.

Earlier this month, Tennessee’s Gannett newspapers gained access to copies of text messages from a cell phone number used by Cade Cothren, Casada’s chief of staff.

In those messages, sent between 2014 and 2016 when Cothren served as press secretary for House Republicans, he bragged about his sexual exploits, referred to women with obscene and derogatory terms, and solicited sex and nude photos from an intern.

The records obtained by the newspapers showed that Casada was a participant in some of those conversations.

Cothren, 32, who made nearly $200,000 a year working for Casada, told the newspapers that he was “young and dumb and immature” when he sent the emails between three and five years ago.

Cothren also admitted to Nashville TV station WTVF that he had used cocaine at work and sent racist text messages. He said he had “turned to maladaptive coping mechanisms” because of job stress.

The station reported that Casada received at least one of the racist text messages. After first accusing WTVF of using fabricating messages, the speaker later backed away from that claim but said he did not remember receiving the message.

Casada told WTVF that Cothren had sought treatment in 2016 and that he had kept him on his staff because Cothren “deserved a shot at redemption.”

Cothren resigned on the same day the Gannett newspapers published their investigation. Casada resisted calls to step aside, at one point calling his exchanges with Cothren “locker room talk,” but saw his support crumble as national news outlets picked up on the scandal.

Republicans hold a 73-26 majority in the Tennessee House.

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Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax calls for criminal investigation of sexual assault allegations

Fairfax issues new denials after his accusers describe encounters in graphic, emotional detail on CBS

By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Days after two women vividly described for a national television audience how they were sexually assaulted by Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, he called a news conference to once again deny the allegations and release results of polygraph examinations that he insists clear him.

Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax denies allegations in April 3 news conference (From CBSN via YouTube)

“Sensationalizing allegations does not make them true,” said Fairfax, who admitted having sexual encounters with both women but said they were consensual. “Yet airing salacious allegations without evidence does enormous damage.”

Meanwhile, Republican and Democratic leaders in the House of Delegates continued to spar over whether to let Fairfax’s accusers, Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, testify in a public hearing, as the women have requested.

Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox has proposed forming a special committee to hear their testimony, but House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn and Fairfax have resisted, saying a law enforcement agencies, not lawmakers, should investigate to keep the process from becoming politicized.

Tyson has alleged that Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him when both were working at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Watson accused Fairfax of raping her in 2000, when they were personal friends while both attending Duke University.

This week, CBS This Morning aired the first national television interviews with the women since their allegations became public in February, during which both described their encounters with Fairfax in graphic and emotional detail to correspondent Gayle King.

“It was a huge betrayal. He was my friend,” Watson said, after describing how Fairfax invited her to his apartment, came into a room, locked the door, and then pinned her down and raped her. “I don’t understand how you do that to someone that you’ve been a friend to.”

She also she had confided to Fairfax that she had been raped by another student at Duke and that he told her after the assault that he thought her previous experience would make her too afraid to report his actions.

Tyson told King that after meeting Fairfax at the Democratic convention, he invited her to accompany him to his hotel room on an errand, and she agreed. As the two began kissing, with her consent, at the end of the bed, she said he grabbed her by the back of the neck and forced her face into his crotch.

“And I’m choking and gagging,” she said. “I was completely caught off guard. It was almost as if I was dumbstruck.”

She told King that prior to the assault, she had discussed with Fairfax her work as an advocate for sexual assault survivors and disclosed that she had been the victim of incest. She said he believes Fairfax “took advantage” of that disclosure to victimize her.

Tyson and Watson both said did not know each other prior to making their allegations and have never met. And Watson insisted she would have no incentive to make untrue allegations against Fairfax.

“The only thing coming forward has done is invited criticism and chaos and scrutiny of me and put me under a microscope,” she said.

At his news conference, Fairfax said he has asked prosecutors in Boston and Durham, North Carolina, where Duke is located, to investigate the allegations, which he said would lead to a “fair, serious and respectful process.”

“I will answer any and all questions, and I am willing to do so under oath and under penalty of perjury,” he said.

Fairfax said he had undergone two polygraph examinations from a nationally recognized polygraph examiner in which he was asked about the women’s allegations. He provided results that showed that the examiner concluded he had been truthful.

Polygraph examinations, commonly know as “lie detector tests,” are used as a law enforcement tool in dealing with suspects. However, results cannot be admitted in court because the reliability of the tests has not been conclusively established.

Fairfax denied the statements attributed to him by the women in their CBS interviews. He also said that neither women appeared upset after their consensual encounters with him, and both stayed in contact with him after the alleged assaults took place.

“If the facts alleged by Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson were true, they conduct would be criminal,” he said. “Such conduct is against everything I have stood for in both my public and private life.”

He said the allegations have been “incredibly hurtful to me and my family and my reputation, which I spent a lifetime building.”

Fairfax, 40, a former federal prosecutor, was elected as Virginia’s lieutenant governor in 2017. He was considered a rising star in Democratic politics until the allegations surfaced in February.

Tyson came forward in February when it appeared likely that Fairfax could become governor, as Governor Ralph Northam was fighting to stay in office after a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page came to light.

Despite calls from fellow Democrats for him to resign, Northam has remained in office.

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North Carolina GOP Chair Robin Hayes, top donor accused of trying to bribe insurance commissioner

Committee supporting U.S. Rep. Mark Walker got $150,000 donation from indicted donor as he was being enlisted to lobby on donor’s behalf

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLOTTE (CFP) — Robin Hayes, a former congressman who chairs the North Carolina Republican Party, and the state’s top political donor have been indicted in what federal prosecutors allege was a “brazen” scheme to bribe Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey with $2 million disguised as campaign contributions.

North Carolina Republican Chair Robin Hayes

The indictment, unsealed April 2, charges Hayes with wire fraud, bribery and three counts of lying to the FBI. Also charged with wire fraud and bribery in the case is Greg E. Lindberg, 48, a Durham businessman who federal prosecutors allege initiated the scheme to bribe Causey in order to get more favorable treatment from insurance regulators for one of his companies.

The indictment of Lindberg is likely to reverberate through state Republican politics. He has contributed generously to various GOP groups and political committees supporting Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest and U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, who appears to have been mentioned in the indictment but was not accused of any crime.

Also charged were John D. Gray, 68, from Chapel Hill, a consultant working for Lindberg, and John V. Palermo, Jr., 63, from Pittsboro, an employee at one of Lindberg’s companies and former GOP chair in Chatham County.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey

Causey, who notified federal law enforcement of the bribery attempt and cooperated with investigators, was not charged.

In a statement, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said the men had engaged in a “brazen bribery scheme in which Greg Lindberg and his co-conspirators allegedly offered hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in exchange for official action that would benefit Lindberg’s business interests.”

Prosecutors allege that Hayes agreed to use the state GOP to funnel Lindberg’s money to Causey’s campaign to keep the source from becoming public, and then lied to FBI agents when he was asked about the contributions and his contacts with Causey on Lindberg’s behalf.

Also mentioned in the indictment, but not accused of wrongdoing, is an unnamed “Public Official A,” who was allegedly enlisted to lobby Causey on Lindberg’s behalf after Lindberg donated $150,000 to a political committee supporting him.

U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-North Carolina

Citing Federal Election Commission records, Politico identified “Public Official A” as Walker, from Greensboro, a member of the House Republican leadership.

FEC records show that Lundberg made a $150,000 contribution to the Mark Walker Victory Committee, which was dated Feb. 17, 2018. Lundberg was the first contributor to the committee, which was registered on Feb. 13, 2018. His contribution was 10 times the amount of any other donor and accounted for about one-fourth of all of the money taken in by the fund during 2018.

The indictment said that on Feb. 5, 2018,  Gray contacted “Public Official A” to lobby Causey on behalf of Lindberg, who wanted the insurance commissioner to remove a deputy he felt was “maliciously” hurting his reputation and replace her with Palermo.

After Gray reported his conversation with Public Official A to Lindberg, he donated $150,000 to a political committee supporting that official, according to the indictment. Two days later, the official called Causey to “explain that Lindberg was doing good things for North Carolina business,” according to the indictment.

Responding to the Politico report, Walker’s office released a statement saying he was not a target of the investigation, has not been accused of any wrongdoing and that he had cooperated with federal prosecutors investigating the case.

The statement also noted the Lindberg has also donated money to Democratic officials and that the victory fund was controlled by the Republican National Committee.

Walker, 49, was elected in 2014 to represent the state’s 6th District, in and around Greensboro. He is part of the GOP House leadership as vice-chair of the House Republican Conference.

Hayes, 73, who served in the U.S. House from 1999 to 2009 and has chaired the state GOP since 2016, had announced on the day before the indictment was unsealed that he would not seek re-election as state chair in June.

His attorney issued a statement saying Hayes “steadfastly denies the allegations made against him” and is looking forward to clearing his name.

In a statement, the state GOP’s legal counsel, Josh Howard, said the party has been “cooperating with the investigation for several months, including staff members providing statements and responding to various document requests” and “remains fully operational and focused on its mission at hand.”

Lindberg’s attorney, Anne Tompkins, told the McClatchey newspapers that his client was innocent of the charges and was also looking forward to his day in court.

The Raleigh News & Observer had previously reported that Lindberg had become the largest political donor in the state over the last two years, contributing more than $3 million to candidates from both parties since 2016. Most of those contributions were made to political committees and political parties instead of directly to candidates, whose donations are capped.

About half of that money went to groups supporting Forest, who is expected to run for governor in 2020, the newspaper reported.

Lindberg is chairman of Eli Global, an investment company, and Global Bankers Insurance Group, which is regulated by Causey’s office.

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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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Justin Fairfax says encounters with 2 accusers were consensual, wants FBI investigation

Political support for Virginia lieutenant governor collapses, with impeachment threat on the table

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax’s political problems have gone from bad to worse after a second woman stepped forward Friday to accuse him of sexual assault, with his political support in free fall as his fellow Democrats desert him.

Fairfax is now calling for an FBI investigation into claims of sexual assault made by Meredith Watson, who says he raped her in 2000, and Vanessa Tyson, who says he forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004.

In a statement issued Saturday, he acknowledged having consensual sexual encounters with both women but urged Virginians not to “rush to judgment” before the claims are investigated.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax

“I say again without reservation: I did not sexually assault or rape Meredith Watson, Vanessa Tyson or anyone else,” he said in a statement released late Saturday. “Our American values don’t just work when it’s convenient — they must be applied at the most difficult of times.”

But Fairfax is facing momentum growing against him, including a call for his resignation by the Democratic Party of Virgina, which put out a statement on Twitter calling the sexual assault allegations “credible” and saying the lieutenant governor “no longer has our confidence or support.”

Fairfax — the only African American holding statewide office — has even lost the support of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who said in a statement that “we can’t see it in the best interest of the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Lieutenant Governor to remain in his role.”

Meanwhile, Democratic Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington said he will introduce articles of impeachment to remove Fairfax if he does not step down by Monday.

“As the father of three young girls, I cannot stand by silently while the lieutenant governor is facing multiple, credible allegations of sexual assault,” Hope told reporters at a news conference Friday night. “My sincere hope is that this will not be necessary and the lieutenant governor will heed the calls of many to resign this weekend.”

The latest allegations are a stunning reversal in the political fortunes of Fairfax, who just a week ago was poised to take over as governor with Governor Ralph Northam under pressure to resign over a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page.

Should Fairfax resign, Northam — or whoever is sitting in the governor’s chair — will pick a replacement, with an election in November to fill the final two years of Fairfax’s term. Impeachment would be a decision for the Republican-controlled legislature.

In a statement released Friday, lawyers for Watson alleged that Fairfax raped her in 2000, when they were both students at Duke University. The statement did not give details of the attack but described it as “premeditated and aggressive.”

Her attorneys also indicated that she has emails and Facebook posts that document that she told other people about the attack right after it happened. She decided to come forward after learning of a claim made earlier in the week by Tyson, a California college professor who said Fairfax sexually assaulted her during the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, according to her attorneys.

“Ms. Watson was upset to learn that Mr. Fairfax raped at least one other woman after he attacked her,” the statement said. “(She) is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character. She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life.”

Democratic leaders largely stood by Fairfax after Tyson’s allegation. But the dam burst once Watson came forward, imperiling the political future of a man who had been seen as a rising star in Democratic politics.

Among the leaders calling for Fairfax’s departure were former Governor Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine.

“The allegations against Justin Fairfax are serious and credible,” McAuliffe said on Twitter. “It is clear to me that he can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia.”

“The allegations against him detail atrocious crimes, and he can no longer effectively serve the Commonwealth,” Kaine tweeted. “We cannot ever ignore or tolerate sexual assault.”

Virginia’s other Democratic U.S. senator, Mark Warner, and the dean of its U.S. House delegation, Democrat Bobby Scott, both stopped short of calling for Fairfax’s immediate resignation, although they said he should resign if the charges are substantiated.

Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates also called for Fairfax to resign, including Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and both African Americans in the race, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.

“The allegations … are corroborated, painful stories of sexual assault and rape. It’s clear Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax should resign his office,” Harris said on Twitter.

The new allegations against Fairfax cap a week of turmoil in the Old Dominion, with all three top statewide Democratic elected officials enmeshed in controversy, a little over a year after they were swept into office in a Democratic wave

The turmoil began when Big League Politics, a conservative website, published a photo from Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page showing a man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

After first appearing to concede that he was in the photo and apologize, Northam then said he does not be believe he is one of the men in the photo.

But after apologizing for allowing the photo to be published on his page, he compounded his problems by admitting that he darkened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest while serving as an Army doctor.

In his first interview since the scandal broke, with the Washington Post, Northam said he will not resign and would spend the remaining three years of his term working for racial reconciliation in the commonwealth. He also said he “overreacted” in quickly issued his initial apology that he later walked back.

Adding to the meltdown in Richmond was an admission by Attorney General Mark Herring that he wore blackface while impersonating a rapper when he was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia.

However, Democratic leaders have so far not bailed on Herring, which prompted the Republican Party of Virginia to accuse them of hypocrisy and giving the attorney general “a hall pass.”

“What is the difference between Governor Northam’s blackface and AG Herring’s?” said Jack Wilson, state GOP chairman, in a statement. “If there is no difference, shouldn’t Democrats call for both to resign?”

Wilson said Democrats were protecting Herring to maintain “their stranglehold” on state government. If Northam, Fairfax and Herring were to all depart,  House Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights would take over as governor — flipping the office from Democrat to Republican.

However, that would only be possible if Northam left first. If he were still governor when Fairfax resigned, he could pick a replacement who would supplant Cox in the line of gubernatorial succession.

If Herring resigns, the legislature would pick his replacement if lawmakers in session; if not, then Northam would pick a replacement who would serve until the legislature reconvenes.

The current legislative session is scheduled to end on February 23.

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Meltdown in Richmond: 3 top Virginia Democrats all snared in crises over conduct

Woman claims lieutenant governor sexually assaulted her; attorney general admits to wearing blackface

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — The turmoil in the top echelons of Virginia politics took a dramatic turn Wednesday, when a women publicly accused Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface as a teen, echoing a controversy already swirling around Governor Ralph Northam.

A little more than a year after Democrats swept to victory in all three statewide races, party leaders are reeling, as their three top state officeholders battle for political survival.

With Northam under pressure to resign, Fairfax and Herring are next in the line of succession to the governorship. Should all three be forced to depart, House Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights would take over as governor — flipping the office from Democrat to Republican.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax

The most serious charges have been raised against Fairfax, 39, a rising star in Democratic politics who was elected to lieutenant governor in 2017.

Vanessa Tyson, a political science professor in California, released a statement putting on the record her allegations against Fairfax, which were first published on a conservative website, Big League Politics, based on a private Facebook post.

Tyson said she decided to go on the record after Fairfax strongly denied the allegations, said the sex was consensual and threatened legal action against news organizations pursuing the story.

“Mr. Fairfax has tried to brand me a liar to a national audience, in service to his political ambitions,” she said in the statement, issued through her attorneys. “Given his false assertions, I’m compelled to make clear what happened.”

Tyson said that during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, she accompanied Fairfax to his hotel room, where he forced her to perform oral sex after “what began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault.”

“Utterly shocked and terrified, I tried to move my head away, but could not because his hand was holding down my neck and he was much stronger than me,” she said. “I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual.”

At the time of the convention, Fairfax was an aide in the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry; Tyson was working at the convention.

Tyson, who holds a doctorate and is a tenured professor at Scripps College near Los Angeles, said the news that Fairfax might replace Northam “flooded me with painful memories, bringing back feelings of grief, shame, and anger.”

She said she began sharing the story of her encounter with Fairfax in 2017, when she learned that he was seeking office in Virginia.

She also spoke with the Washington Post, and, when the post decided not to run the story, “I felt powerless, frustrated, and completely drained.”

The Post has said it did not pursue the story because it could not corroborate either Fairfax or Tyson’s versions of event.

In response to Tyson’s statement, Fairfax issued a statement of his own again insisting that the sexual encounter was consensual.

“While this allegation has been both surprising and hurtful, I also recognize that no one makes charges of this kind lightly,” he said. “I wish her no harm or humiliation, nor do I seek to denigrate her or diminish her voice. But I cannot agree with a description of events that I know is not true.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring

Tyson’s statement came just hours after Herring apologized for wearing blackface back in 1980, when he was a 19-year-old undergraduate at the University of Virginia.

“Some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song,” he said in a statement. “That conduct shows clearly that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others.”

He also said that “the shame of the moment has haunted me for decades” and “that I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt.”

Despite having this episode at UVA in his background, Herring had called on Northam to resign last week after a photo published on Northam’s yearbook page showed a man wearing blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

Northam said he does not be believe he is one of the men in the 1984 photo and did not see it until it surfaced on Big League Politics. While he apologized for allowing the photo to be published on his page, he also admitted that he darkened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson in a dance contest while serving as an Army doctor.

Northam has come under increasing pressure from Republicans, civil rights groups and even fellow Democrats — including both of Virginia’s U.S. senators and much of the 2020 presidential field — to step aside. He has so far refused.

After Herring’s admission, the Republican Party of Virginia called on him to resign as well, although the party has not yet issued a similar call for Fairfax.

“Like we have had to say too many times this week, racism has no place in Virginia and dressing up in blackface is wholly unacceptable,” said Jack Wilson, GOP state chair, in a statement.

“As we renew our call for Governor Northam’s resignation, we must regretfully add Mark Herring’s name to the list of Democratic elected officials that have lost the trust of the people of Virginia and have lost the moral authority to govern.”

Herring, 57, was elected as attorney general in 2013 and re-elected in 2017. Both he and Fairfax had been considered as possible candidates to succeed Northam as governor in 2021.

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Virginia lieutenant governor pushes back against sexual assault allegation

Justin Fairfax threatens legal action over encounter that his attorneys tell Washington Post was consensual

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

RICHMOND (CFP) — As Virginia Governor Ralph Northam fights to stay in office amid a raging controversy over a racist photo, the man who would take over if Northam departs, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, is pushing back against a sexual assault allegation.

Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax

Fairfax came out swinging after Big League Politics — the same conservative website that published a racist photo that appeared on Northam’s medical school yearbook page — reported on a private Facebook post from a woman who claims she was assaulted during the 2004 Democratic Convention.

The woman does not explicitly name Fairfax as her attacker in the post but describes her attacker as someone elected to statewide office in 2017 who is about to “get a very big promotion” — a description that fits Fairfax.

After Big League Politics posted the story, Fairfax’s office issued a statement denying the allegation, insisting that the Washington Post investigated the woman’s claim after Fairfax was elected in 2017 and declined to publish a story after finding “significant red flags and inconsistencies.”

That prompted the Washington Post to publish a story in which the newspaper denied finding “significant red flags and consistences.” It said no story was published because Fairfax and the woman “told different versions” about their encounter, neither of which could be corroborated.

The Post also reported that Fairfax, through his attorneys, described his encounter with the woman as consensual.

In 2004, Fairfax was working for the campaign of then-U.S. Senator John Kerry, who was the Democratic nominee for president that year. He was single at the time; he married in 2006.

Big League Politics said it obtained the private Facebook post from a friend of the woman, who said she had the woman’s permission to share it. The website identified the woman making the assault allegation but said it had not spoken with her.

ChickenFriedPolitics does not identify sexual assault victims who have not gone on the record with their story.

Fairfax’s denial came in a statement attributed to his chief of staff, Lawrence Roberts, and his communications director, Lauren Burke.

“He has never assaulted anyone — ever — in any way, shape or form,” the statement said. “Not one other reputable media outlet has seen fit to air this false claim. Only now, at a time of intense media attention surrounding Virginia politics, has this false claim been made.”

His spokespeople also said the lieutenant governor “will take appropriate action against those attempting to spread this defamatory and false allegation.”

Fairfax, 39, has been in the spotlight since Friday when the racist photo on Northam’s 1984 yearbook page appeared on Big League Politics. The photo shows two men, one in blackface and the other dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia.

The governor says he believes he is not one of the men pictured in the photo, but he apologized for allowing the photo to be published on his yearbook page. He also admitted to darkening his face to impersonate Michael Jackson for a dance contest in 1984.

Leading Democrats and civil rights leaders, as well as Virginia Republicans, have been pressuring Northam to resign, but he has so far resisted.

Should Northam step down, Fairfax would serve out the remaining three years of his term. If both offices were vacated, under state law Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, would take over.

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