On Thursday, House Democrats rejected a proposal for a bipartisan investigation into multiple claims of sexual assault and rape levied against Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax, just days before the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn its legislative session.
By running out the clock, this move by House Democrats would effectively end the ability of the General Assembly to hear the testimony of Fairfax’s two accusers during the session.
Both of Fairfax’s accusers have repeatedly said they want their voices to be heard in a public forum.
For several weeks now, House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) has called for the House of Delegates to hold public hearings into the allegations. Initially, it appeared that Democrats may have been willing to cooperate, following Delegate Patrick Hope’s (D-Arlington) announced plan to introduce articles of impeachment, which he said would open a process by which lawmakers could investigate the claims and hear public testimony from Fairfax’s two accusers.
Shortly after Hope’s announcement, the Democratic caucus threw cold water on that process, successfully pressuring him into withdrawing his proposal, claiming they needed more time to answer questions about how the investigation would proceed.
Now, as reported by the Washington Post, Democrats are resisting calls to create a special panel — one which stops short of impeachment proceedings — to look into the allegations which helped fuel the chaos consuming the capitol.
Shortly after the Post’s story broke, Graham Moomaw with the Richmond Times-Dispatch released a never-before-seen statement circulated by House Democrats, which called an investigation by the General Assembly “impossible” at this time.
The ten-member panel, proposed by Cox, would consist of a special subcommittee of the House’s Courts of Justice Committee, which the speaker said would contain an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, to avoid any appearance of partisan impropriety.
That panel, according to Cox, would have limited subpoena power.
House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn was not receptive to the proposal.
“Nobody wants this to turn into a political, partisan show,” Filler-Corn told the Post, without proposing any alternative plan.
Cox saw things differently, suggesting that the process needed to be open to the public, as requested by both of Fairfax’s accusers, each of whom has asked for the opportunity to testify in an open hearing.
“Vanessa Tyson, Meredith Watson deserve a voice,” Cox told the Post, in a Thursday interview. “We need to work on a process to do that.”
“And I would like for you to come alongside us,” he added, appealing to Democrats to join in the equal and bipartisan effort.
With the clock ticking, it now appears that House Democrats will prevent any action from being taken prior to the body’s scheduled Saturday adjournment.
Although Democratic leaders have called on Fairfax to resign, they have not floated any alternative proposal to give Fairfax’s accusers the public hearing they requested.
Instead, Democrats have suggested that out-of-state authorities look into claims against Virginia’s second-highest officeholder.
Fairfax himself has called for the FBI to investigate, despite the agency lacking any jurisdiction to do so, according to experts.
“The FBI has no jurisdiction to investigate rape and sexual assault claims,” tweeted former Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Bromwich, who served as a federal prosecutor in New York. “There is no federal hook — the alleged crimes didn’t occur on federal property and Fairfax is not a Supreme Court nominee. Fairfax and his lawyers surely know this.”
Throughout the process, Fairfax has appeared evasive, suggesting shortly after the first accuser surfaced that fellow Democrats loyal to Governor Ralph Northam had floated the story to the press in an attempt to relieve pressure on Northam to resign, following the revelation of a racist photo on his yearbook page, as well as his own admission that he had worn blackface years ago.
Public opinion on the allegations is not favorable to Fairfax.
According to a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday, Virginians support impeaching Fairfax by a margin of 54-24 — a move less cautious than that proposed by Cox — though they are divided 36-36 on whether he should resign before the hearings.
If impeached, charges against Fairfax would be referred to the Senate, which would ultimately hold hearings on whether to affirm them and remove him from office.
Notably, according to the poll, only 12% of voters believe Fairfax’s denials, with 37% saying they believe his two accusers. 51% of respondents were undecided, suggesting that Democrats may have a political motive in hoping the allegations go away quietly without further hearings.
Fairfax has categorically denied the allegations against him.