Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax acknowledges that he had a consensual encounter with a colleague in a Boston hotel during the 2004 Democratic national convention but flatly denies her charges of sexual assault.
“I wish her no harm or humiliation, nor do I seek to denigrate her or diminish her voice,” Fairfax said Wednesday in his second response to the burgeoning allegations. “But I cannot agree with a description of events that I know is not true.”
The allegations by Vanessa Tyson, now a professor at Scripps College in Claremont, California, surfaced in the wake of a blackface scandal involving Gov. Ralph Northam that potentially could lead to Fairfax becoming governor of Virginia.
Tyson said she decided to go public with her charges because of the prospects that Fairfax seemed likely to become the state’s chief executive.
“I felt a jarring sense of both outrage and despair,” Tyson said in a statement Wednesday in which she spoke of her charges.
In the statement released by her lawyer, Tyson said she met Fairfax in 2004 when both were working at the Democratic party convention and realized they had a mutual friend.
At one point, she said, Fairfax invited her back to his hotel to retrieve some papers.
“What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault,” Tyson said. “Mr. Fairfax put his hand behind my neck and forcefully pushed my head towards his crotch.”
Tyson alleged that Fairfax then forced her to perform oral sex.
“I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual,” she said, adding that she consciously avoided him for the rest of the convention and never spoke to him again.
Fairfax, in his statement, called Tyson’s account “surprising and hurtful” but said, “I have never done anything like what she suggests.”
The 39-year-old Democrat said any review of the circumstances surrounding the alleged incident would support his account.
“At no time did she express to me any discomfort or concern about our interactions, neither during that encounter nor during the months following it, when she stayed in touch with me, nor the past fifteen years,” Fairffax said. “She in no way indicated that anything that had happened between us made her uncomfortable.”
While a wide array of Democrats, both in Virginia and nationally, as well as Republicans have called on Northam to step down over the blackface incident, fewer voices have come out against Fairfax.
Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization of Women, however, has urged him to step down, as has Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a freshman Virginia Democrat who previously served in the state senate.
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris, of California, said Thursday she finds Tyson’s charges “credible” and called for a thorough investigation of the allegations.
In a bizarre twist to recent sexual allegations that have rocked national politics, Tyson is represented by the law firm that backed Dr. Christine Blasey Ford when she accused then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct in high school.
Fairfax, in turn, has retained the law firm that represented Kavanaugh during those contentious hearings, CNN reports.
Although Tyson agreed to go public with her allegations this week, she had tried to raise her concerns last year in the run up to the elections that put Fairfax in the lieutenant governor’s chair.
She said she spoke in 2017 to a personal friend at The Washington Post, and to colleagues, about the allegations but that the newspaper decided not to run her story.
The Post, which spoke to people who knew Fairfax from college, law school and through political circles, found no similar complaints of sexual misconduct against him, the newspaper reported this week. Without that, or the ability to corroborate Tyson’s account — in part because she had not told anyone what happened — the Post did not run a story.
The experience, she said, left her feeling “powerless, frustrated, and completely drained,” and that she had declined to press the issue until Fairfax appeared likely to ascend to the governorship in Virginia.
“I have no political motive,” she said.” I am a proud Democrat. My only motive in speaking now is to refute Mr. Fairfax’s falsehoods and aspersions of my character, and to provide what I believe is important information for Virginians to have as they make critical decisions that involve Mr. Fairfax.”