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Calls for Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to resign continue following second accusation of sexual assault

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax speaks during an interview in his office at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Fairfax answered questions about the controversial photo in Gov. Ralph Northam's yearbook page. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

WASHINGTON — Following in the wake of a second accusation of sexual assault against Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, politicians from both sides of the aisle in the commonwealth are calling for his resignation.

A second woman has accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, saying Fairfax raped her in 2000 while the two were students at Duke University.

This is the second allegation of sexual assault made against Fairfax, a Democrat, and it comes amid a deepening political crisis in Virginia revolving around racist photos tied to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.

The new accusation comes from a woman named Meredith Watson, who said in a statement through her lawyers that the attack was “premeditated and aggressive.”

The Associated Press reported that Fairfax said in a statement Friday, “I deny this latest unsubstantiated allegation. It is demonstrably false. I have never forced myself on anyone ever.”

In another statement released later Friday night, Watson’s lawyer, Nancy Erika Smith, pushed back on what she claimed were Fairfax’s attempts to discredit Watson, detailing a past exchange between Watson and Fairfax.

Smith said in an earlier statement that Watson and Fairfax were friends but never dated or had any romantic relationship.

Watson had shared her account of the rape in a series of emails and Facebook messages to friends, her lawyer said, and former classmates can also corroborate that Watson immediately told them Fairfax had raped her around the time it happened.

“At this time, Ms. Watson 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,” the earlier statement said. “She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life.”

Watson is not seeking financial damages but hopes Fairfax resigns from public office, her lawyer said. The statement added that details of Watson’s attack mirrored those described by California college professor Vanessa Tyson, who first publicly accused Fairfax of sexual assault.

Tyson issued a statement earlier this week accusing Fairfax of forcing her to perform a sex act in 2004 in a hotel room during the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Fairfax has maintained that the encounter was consensual and cast Tyson’s allegation as part of a political smear campaign. Tyson told The Associated Press that she is a “proud Democrat” and had no political motives.

Following the accusation from Watson, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe took to Twitter to say the allegations were “serious and credible” and called for Fairfax’s immediate resignation.

Echoing McAuliffe, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., tweeted that Fairfax should resign and added that he could “no longer effectively serve the commonwealth.”

Other Virginia lawmakers also called for Fairfax’s resignation.

Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox released a statement Saturday calling for Fairfax’s resignation.

“His ability to serve has been permanently impaired and, at this point, it is in the best interests of the Commonwealth for him to resign.” Cox said.

In a statement Friday night, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus called for Fairfax to step down and said, in part:

“While we believe that anyone accused of such a grievous and harmful act must receive the due process prescribed by the constitution, we can’t see it in the best interest of the commonwealth of Virginia for the lieutenant governor to remain in his role.”

The state House and Senate Democrats’ statement read:

“Due to the serious nature of these allegations, we believe Lt. Gov. Fairfax can no longer fulfill his duties to the commonwealth. He needs to address this as a private citizen. The time has come for him to step down.”

Several Democrats representing Virginia in the House, which include Reps. Jennifer Wexton, Abigail Spanberger, Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly and Elaine Luria, released a joint statement saying Fairfax should step down:

“The Lieutenant Governor of Virginia presides over the Virginia Senate and must be prepared to fill the role of governor. It is unacceptable that either of these weighty responsibilities be entrusted to someone who has engaged in the behavior described by Dr. Tyson and Meredith Watson, particularly in light of Gov. Northam’s situation, which we continue to believe requires his resignation.”

Rep. Donald McEachin said in a tweet that Fairfax could “no longer serve us as the lieutenant governor of Virginia.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., called the news “devastating” and said, “If these allegations concerning Lt. Gov. Fairfax are accurate, then they are clearly disqualifying and he must resign.”

Arlington Del. Patrick Hope, a Democrat, tweeted that he would be introducing articles of impeachment for the lieutenant governor on Monday if Fairfax has not resigned before then.

“Impeachment shall be for a high crime or misdemeanor. There’s no question that violent sexual assault clearly qualifies as a high crime,” Hope told reporters at a Friday night news conference.

He added that due to the lateness of the session, the House of Delegates would have to grant Hope unanimous consent in order to introduce any new resolution. But, Hope said he expected Fairfax to listen to the multiple calls for his resignation and step down by the weekend.

Hope went on to explain that while Northam’s past blackface was “heinous” and “clearly insensitive,” it didn’t rise to the same level of high crimes or misdemeanor for articles of impeachment under the Virginia constitution.

National Democrats also weighed in. Presidential hopefuls Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand said Fairfax should resign.

Virginia Senate Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, said in a statement that they were “shocked and dismayed by these credible and serious allegations.” They called for investigations by law enforcement officials in North Carolina and Massachusetts.

The sexual assault accusations came into light following calls for Northam to resign after a racist photo on the page of his medical school yearbook from the 1980s was unearthed last week. If Northam were to step down, Fairfax would be next in line for the governorship.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who would be next in line if Northam and Fairfax were to resign, admitted to also wearing blackface in the 1980s. Herring is also a Democrat.

Northam has since told top staff Friday that he is not going to resign, a senior official told The Associated Press.

WTOP’s Teta Alim and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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