The situation that is unfolding for Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax in the state of Virginia continues to get messier and more confusing as the days go on. Accusations of political smears and revelations that others were made aware of the reported sexual assault have been dropping into the news cycle all week.
Fairfax has said the allegations of a 2004 sexual assault made against him by Dr. Vanessa Tyson are “a smear” and that the sexual encounter between the two of them was consensual. 8News reports that he asked reporters at a news conference on Monday, “Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of my potentially being elevated that this uncorroborated smear comes out?”
Fairfax denied that he thought Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam had anything to do with the allegation coming to light. He did not, however, shy away from intimating that Richmond, Va., Mayor Levar M. Stoney was involved.
When asked by reporters if Stoney was involved, Fairfax said “Here’s the thing, I tell you what, you all, you are great reporters. You’ll get to digging and be able to make some connections.”
According to 8News, Stoney denied involvement on Tuesday.
“That’s absolutely 100 percent not true...and frankly, I’m kind of offended by such an insinuation,” he told 8News.
Sources told 8News that the two men spoke Monday night in an attempt to clear the air, but the conversation reportedly ending with Fairfax hanging up on Stoney.
On Wednesday, Fairfax released a statement that detailed his side of things and in which he said listening to women is important, as is giving survivors “the space and support to voice their stories”:
I’d like to begin by emphasizing how important it is for us to listen to women when they come forward with allegations of sexual assault or harassment. As a former prosecutor and someone who is close with a number of women who are survivors of sexual assault, I know that many survivors of sexual assault suffer in silence, and it is absolutely essential to their healing and our healing as a culture that we give all survivors the space and support to voice their stories.
Regarding the allegation that has been made against me – while this allegation has been both surprising and hurtful, I also recognize that no one makes charges of this kind lightly, and I take it and this situation very seriously.
This has been an emotional couple of days for me and my family. And in my remarks on Monday, I think you could hear how emotional dealing with an allegation that I know is not true has been for me.
As I have stated previously, fifteen years ago, when I was an unmarried law student, I had a consensual encounter with the woman who made the allegation. 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. She in no way indicated that anything that had happened between us made her uncomfortable.
The first indication I had that she felt that anything that had happened between us fifteen years ago made her uncomfortable was when I was contacted by a national media organization shortly before my inauguration in 2018. I voluntarily met with their staff, in person, told them what I knew about the encounter and responded to all of their questions. I also shared the allegation and my account of the events with a number of leaders in Richmond because then, as now, I have nothing to hide.
I would like to encourage the media, my supporters, and others to treat both the woman who made this allegation and my family with respect for how painful this situation can be for everyone involved. I wish her no harm or humiliation, nor do I seek to denigrate her or diminish her voice. But I cannot agree with a description of events that I know is not true.
If we learned anything from the past week, it’s that we have to listen to people’s experiences to learn from them so we can make progress. Like many of you, I’ve spent time over the last several days discussing difficult subjects with people very close to me. I believe that if we continue to listen, we will continue to make the progress that makes the Commonwealth of Virginia a unique place, not only in the South, but in the United States of America.
These are unprecedented and difficult times. We have the opportunity to prove ourselves worthy of the challenge and come together. I look forward to continuing my work to unify the Commonwealth.
— Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax
Meanwhile, ABC News reports that Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) was told of the reported sexual assault by Tyson herself over a year ago.
Aides to Scott told ABC News that Tyson reached out to him via email on Oct. 20, 2017 and said she was “not a fan” of the then-candidate for lieutenant governor. She reached out again on Nov. 29 and said she would like to talk about her dislike for Fairfax with Congressman Scott.
In a December 2017 text message, Tyson told Scott that the then-lieutenant governor-elect had a “#MeToo” allegation. She did not tell him that she was the accuser, and aides say Scott did not find out that piece of the story until late December 2017 and early January 2018. It was at that time that Tyson made Scott aware that she had already told the Washington Post about the incident, and Scott said he would be willing to speak with the Post as a character witness for Tyson.
There is no indication that Scott took any other action with the information about the reported sexual assault.
In a statement to ABC News, Scott said “Allegations of sexual assault need to be taken seriously. I have known Professor Tyson for approximately a decade and she is a friend. She deserves the opportunity to have her story heard.”