RICHMOND — The Democratic state lawmaker who abruptly halted plans to file articles of impeachment against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax said Monday that he still wants an investigation into rape allegations against the lieutenant governor.
Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington said General Assembly Democrats need more time to build consensus on the best path forward.
Still, he stressed that he believed Mr. Fairfax’s two accusers, Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, and wanted to give them a forum in which to tell their stories.
“The purpose of the additional time is so that we can find the best process to investigate these crimes with the broadest possible support,” he said in a statement. “The impeachment process is about investigating to find the truth. I am open to discussions on other avenues that would accomplish the same goals.”
He added, “We must allow the victims to be heard in the most fair and just process possible.”
Mr. Fairfax, the party’s top black elected official in Virginia, has vehemently denied he ever raped anyone and has vowed to clear his name.
The crisis for Mr. Fairfax, a 39-year-old rising star in the party, is part of a political bonfire consuming Virginia’s Democratic leaders. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring stand accused of racism for wearing blackface in the 1980s, and the governor is defying his party’s calls for him to step down.
Democrats struggled with the response to Mr. Fairfax in the #MeToo era before the second accuser came forward, prompting an avalanche of resignation calls, including from Democratic leaders in Washington, the Virginia Democratic Party and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.
Ms. Tyson alleged Mr. Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him when they met as campaign aides at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Ms. Watson said she suffered a similar attack by Mr. Fairfax in 2000 when they were students at Duke University.
Mr. Hope announced Friday that he would file articles of impeachment Monday if Mr. Fairfax did not resign. He announced in a tweet Monday morning that those plans were put on hold after receiving an “enormous amount of sincere and thoughtful feedback” from fellow Democrats about the draft legislation.
“I have been absolutely horrified by the grave allegations made against Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax by Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Ms. Meredith Watson,” Mr. Hope said. “After reading their accounts, I believe both of these brave women. Their accounts, as well as Lt. Governor Fairfax’s behavior since the charges have come forward, indicate a grave problem that we must solve immediately.”
“Lt. Governor Fairfax should have already resigned,” he said. “It is atrocious that he will be presiding over the Senate of Virginia today with these allegations. The message being sent to victims of sexual assault is chilling.”
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