The scandals in Virginia might have gone “poof” a few weeks ago, but one in particular threatens again to blow up in Democrats’ faces. Two women accusing Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault have gone public again this week on CBS This Morning demanding action. Republicans have tried working with their counterparts in the Virginia state legislature, but Speaker Kirk Cox announced yesterday that they have refused to hold public hearings into the allegations:
On Tuesday, Speaker Cox (R-Colonial Heights) released a statement regarding the potential for a legislative hearing on the sexual assault allegations against the lieutenant governor.
“For the last two days, we have watched excruciating first-hand accounts from two survivors of sexual assault who allege that Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax assaulted and raped them in separate incidents in the early 2000s,” he said.
“Over the course of the last few weeks, we have communicated with attorneys representing Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Ms. Meredith Watson,” Cox added. “Through those conversations, they have told us that Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson are prepared to share their accounts at a legislative hearing, but only if there is bipartisan cooperation to conduct the hearing.”
In February, House Republicans were working towards a bipartisan plan of action to give the two accusers an opportunity for a hearing, which would also grant due process for Lieutenant Governor Fairfax. Cox explained that the legislature was set to “establish a bipartisan subcommittee of the House Courts Committee with an equal number of members from both parties,” but said “our Democratic colleagues stated their opposition to a hearing.”
House Democratic leader Eileen Filler-Corn insisted in a letter that Virginia Democrats do want to get to the bottom of the “extremely serious” allegations against Fairfax. In a letter to Courts of Justice chair Robert Bell last week, Filler-Corn rejected any effort by the legislature for oversight on Fairfax. She wants to avoid a “highly charged political environment”:
Many members of the House of Delegates have serious concerns regarding whether such a hearing in a political body would be impartial and could result in a “highly charged political environment”– a concern echoed by representatives of Vanessa Tyson. House Democrats have repeatedly expressed this view, and unfortunately, our concerns have not been assuaged by continued efforts of the majority.
A hearing regarding criminal allegations against an elected official would be unprecedented in Virginia. It is my understanding that the House of Delegates has never taken an action of this nature, even when previous elected officials in our chamber and in our executive branch have been accused of criminal behavior. We are concerned that enacting the plan that you have proposed would establish an ill-defined precedent for the future, which could be abused.
As you know, we are a legislative body, and we do not have law enforcement investigative capabilities or legal authority such as subpoena powers. The majority of members of the House of Delegates are not trained to conduct hearings into criminal allegations, nor ask questions of the accusers or the accused in a public forum. In addition, we believe any such hearing would be of a political nature, particularly in an election year, and it would not provide the accusers the fair and impartial forum they deserve.
Instead, she wants an “independent, third-party entity” to take up an investigation:
Given the expressed desire of Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson that they want an opportunity to be heard, we remain open to discussing the option of engaging an independent, third party entity to conduct a hearing while taking into consideration fairness and due process for all involved in a non-political, professional and safe environment in a manner that would not impede or compromise any possible ongoing investigation.
That’s nonsense on stilts. There are no “possible ongoing investigations,” and Filler-Corn knows it. The expiration date from statutes of limitation on both allegations have long since passed, even for civil lawsuits. Moreover, since neither of the alleged assaults took place in Virginia, there would be no state-based law enforcement for referral or reliance by the legislature.
This letter is an utter abdication of legislative responsibility. Perhaps the state legislature has never faced this situation before, but their authority for oversight of the executive branch is clear. The legislature can impeach Fairfax, which means they can investigate Fairfax too. Rather than do their constitutional duty, they want to punt it to an unelected task force with no accountability and precisely zero authority. If they want to hire outside investigators, they can do so as part of a committee dealing with this issue.
Everyone claims to want “due process” in dealing with these allegations. There is only one due-process path left open to Fairfax and his accusers at this late date, and that is through legislative hearings into the matter. Cox has been trying to meet that demand, but Virginia Democrats would prefer to sweep Fairfax under the rug and deny his accusers their opportunity to hold him accountable within the law.
Fairfax felt enough pressure today to issue a public statement to the legislature and the media. He also called efforts to look into the allegations a form of “lynching,” asking for investigations in other states to clear his name — but apparently not in Virginia:
Embattled Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax spoke out Wednesday denying sexual assault allegations made against him by two women and calling for multi-state investigations he says will vindicate him.
“These allegations, if true, would be incredibly serious. Because they are not true, however, they are incredibly hurtful to me and my family and my reputation, which I have spent a lifetime building,” Fairfax said at a news conference in Richmond.
Once again, calling for investigations by law enforcement in those states is disingenuous at best. Thanks to the statutes of limitation, law enforcement has no authority to investigate. If Fairfax wants due process, he knows who to ask.