The attorney for a woman who has accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of raping her while they were undergraduates at Duke University nearly two decades ago is accusing state Democrats of “pure cowardice” for signaling they won’t proceed with public hearings on the allegations against him.
“Apparently, the Virginia House Democratic Caucus believes that courageous victims of rape need to be heard — just not by them,” said Nancy Erika Smith, an attorney for accuser Meredith Watson. “Ms. Watson is counting on the General Assembly to do the right thing and hold hearings now. These nonstop efforts to duck their role is pure cowardice. Sympathy is welcome, but action is needed.”
Watson has called for state's general assembly to hold a public hearing into both her allegations and those of Vanessa Tyson, who has separately accused the Democrat of rape during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Fairfax has denied both allegations.
On Tuesday, the Virginia House Democratic Caucus reiterated calls for Fairfax to resign, but said they “believe that the law enforcement investigation should proceed unencumbered and outside of the political arena.”
“Ms. Watson & Dr. Tyson are courageous in coming forward to tell their stories. We respect all survivors and believe they should be fully heard. The allegations they have made against Lt Gov Fairfax are criminal in nature and we are treating them with the seriousness they deserve,” the statement from the Democrats said.
Meanwhile, Republicans signaled they would like to see the legislature conduct a hearing.
“It’s becoming more compelling that a legislative forum should be seriously considered,” House Speaker Kirk Cox said. “We are actively working to develop that process and hope our Democrat colleagues will work with us moving forward.”
Earlier this week, Watson wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece that she was "frustrated by calls for an investigation rather than a public hearing" into the allegations brought against Fairfax by her and Vanessa Tyson.
"Such 'investigations' are secret proceedings, out of the public eye, leaving victims vulnerable to selective leaks and smears. And we all know how such investigations end: with 'inconclusive results,'" Watson wrote. "My privacy has already been violated, yet I am still willing to testify publicly under oath. Tyson has made the same offer. Our plea to the Virginia General Assembly to require the same of Fairfax has been met with inaction."
Meanwhile, a Virginia delegate who threatened to introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax has hit pause, saying in a tweet last week that “additional conversation” is needed before anything is filed.
Watson has said that Fairfax raped her in 2000, but that she did not report it because of how Duke officials responded to her earlier claim that she was raped by basketball star Corey Maggette. (Maggette has denied the claim.) An attorney for Watson has claimed that Fairfax was one of the people she told about the alleged assault and that the future lieutenant governor "used this prior assault against Ms. Watson" when he allegedly raped her.
Last week, Fox News obtained Facebook messages from Watson in which she commented on Fairfax's 2017 candidacy for Virginia lieutenant governor and told contacts about the alleged rape.
Tyson, an associate professor of politics at Scripps College in California, previously accused Fairfax of forcing her to perform oral sex on him during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Fairfax, who was attending Columbia Law School, was working as a so-called "body man" for vice presidential nominee John Edwards.
Fairfax has said that the encounters with Watson and Tyson were consensual and suggested that both women's accusations are part of a political smear campaign to prevent him from succeeding Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam if he's forced to resign amid a racist photo scandal.
“I have never forced myself on anyone ever,” Fairfax said in a recent statement. “I demand a full investigation into these unsubstantiated and false allegations. Such an investigation will confirm my account because I am telling the truth.”
Fox News' Garrett Tenney and Samuel Chamberlain and The Associated Press contributed to this report.