One day after House Democrats shut down investigations into accusations of sexual assault leveled against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, a top House Republican announced that the GOP will give Fairfax’s accusers the opportunity to testify before the General Assembly, per their request.
Delegate Rob Bell (R-Albemarle), who chairs the Courts of Justice committee which holds jurisdiction, announced on the floor that the GOP would not let Democrats’ refusal to participate prevent the hearings from moving forward.
“We tried to work diligently with our colleagues across the aisle to create a bipartisan way to investigate,” said Delegate Bell. “We proposed a special subcommittee that would have been five-five. Five Republicans, five Democrats, to hear testimony, issue subpoenas, and conduct the investigation. That was declined.”
For the past week, House GOP leaders had tried to obtain the cooperation of Democratic lawmakers, whose interest in pursuing hearings waned after party leadership blocked an effort by Delegate Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax. Hope said that would create a process for moving forward.
House Republicans had proposed a special subcommittee of the Courts of Justice Committee, to consist of five Democrats and Five Republicans, charged with hearing testimony, issuing subpoenas, and investigating the charges against Lieutenant Governor Fairfax.
Under House rules, actions by the committee require a majority, meaning that the committee would be unable to act along party lines.
House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), who proposed the concept, said that adherence to bipartisanship was necessary to handle what he called a sensitive matter.
After repeated attempts to work with their Democratic colleagues, Republicans said, Democratic leadership rebuffed all offers, saying they wished for the matter to be handled by out-of-state investigators.
Cox responded that Democrats were offering “excuses” and attempting to “run out the clock” with only days left in the scheduled legislative session. He added that the House had a “duty” to investigate.
That duty was again referenced by Bell in his announcement, in which he cited the rules of the House of Delegates.
“The rules of the House are clear,” Bell added. “Rule 18 says, ‘It shall be the duty of each committee to inquire into the condition and administration of the laws relating to the subjects which it has in its charge, to investigate the conduct, and look to the responsibility of all public officers and agents concerned and to suggest such measures as will correct abuses to protect the public interests and promote the public welfare.'”
So far, House Democrats have resisted all efforts to hold hearings and hear testimony from Fairfax’s accusers.
Yesterday, in a rotunda press conference, House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Springfield) avoided giving direct answers, even as Cox pressed for a “yes or no” response.
Filler-Corn said the General Assembly’s involvement might impede out of state criminal investigations, declining to commit to any hearings or investigation in Virginia when asked by reporters.
“Our concern really is about impeding a criminal investigation,” she said. “That is one of our concerns and we have laid that out and expressed that, communicated to them several times about that.”
The reporter asking the question said she failed to directly answer it.
“But you’re not directly answering this question that we’ve asked, I think, three times now,” said the reporter.
Cox was unequivocal in saying the General Assembly must act.
“I think it’s very essential that we have a formalized process that’s a bipartisan process, by which we really look at what happened, obviously, with Lieutenant Governor Fairfax,” said the speaker. “Give an opportunity to the two women to tell their story.”
Cox also noted that the hearings were requested by both of Fairfax’s accusers.
“The victims are asking for this,” added Cox. They’ve consistently asked for this. I think you’ve seen editorials in newspapers. I saw a letter today from Vanessa Tyson that is basically, and I think properly, calling us to take some action.”
“I think it’s very appropriate to get going on this, and that’s why I’ve been really pushing the Democrats to give me an answer. And they seem to be running out the clock.”
The legislative session is scheduled to conclude tomorrow, on Saturday. Bell said the hearings would occur at a future date, to be determined.
With Bell’s announcement, Fairfax’s accusers will get their public hearing and opportunity to testify, with or without Democrats participating in the process.
Fairfax, a former federal prosecutor, has denied the allegations, asking instead for an FBI investigation. The agency lacks jurisdiction to investigate.