RICHMOND, Va. ― Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) vehemently denied a sexual assault allegation against him that resurfaced late Sunday, arguing it was timed to derail his potential ascent to the governorship.
“This allegation is completely false,” Fairfax said at an impromptu press conference in the Capitol rotunda on Monday afternoon.
“I’ll be 40 years old next month. I have lived 40 years accusation-free. And there’s a reason for that,” he said. “And there’s also a reason, at the moment when people … think that there’s a possibility I might be elevated to the governorship ― it’s at that point that they come out with the attacks and the smears.”
The woman accusing Fairfax of sexual assault has claimed he forced her to perform oral sex during an encounter that began consensually at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Fairfax maintains the encounter was entirely consensual and has threatened legal action to protect his reputation against a claim he called “defamatory.”
At Monday’s press conference, he also said the woman accusing him called him months after the encounter in question to try to meet up with her and meet her mother. When pressed for evidence of her subsequent communication, Fairfax said he did not have any because it had happened over the phone.
Fairfax has become the subject of national attention in recent days as pressure mounts on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to resign. Virtually every Democratic elected official in the state has withdrawn support for Northam after a racist photo from his medical school yearbook page emerged Friday. Northam initially said he appeared in the photo, which shows a man in blackface standing with another man in a Ku Klux Klan uniform, but he subsequently recanted. At a Saturday press conference, Northam nonetheless admitted to another instance of wearing blackface.
Fairfax, the second black statewide elected official in Virginia’s history, would succeed Northam if the governor resigned. (Fairfax has not called on Northam to resign; he declined to do so again at Monday’s press conference.)
The chaos escalated Sunday night as the specter of scandal spread to Fairfax as well.
Big League Politics, the same conservative news site that first published Northam’s yearbook photo, published a screenshot of a social media post by a woman describing her sexual assault accusation against Fairfax.
“Imagine you were sexually assaulted during the [Democratic National Convention] in Boston in 2004 by a campaign staffer. You spend the next 13 years trying to forget it ever happened,” the woman wrote. “Until one day you find out he’s the Democratic candidate for statewide office in a state 3,000 miles away, and he wins that election in November 2017. Then by strange, horrible luck, it seems increasingly likely he’ll get a VERY BIG promotion.”
In the early hours of Monday morning, Fairfax’s staff issued a statement denying the allegation. The statement, co-signed by Fairfax’s chief of staff Lawrence Roberts and communications director Lauren Burke, said The Washington Post had investigated the allegation the previous year and decided not to publish a story on it due to the “absence of any evidence corroborating the allegation, and significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegation.”
“The Lt. Governor will take appropriate legal action against those attempting to spread this defamatory and false allegation,” Roberts and Burke said.
Hours later, the Post published its own version of events, denying that it had unearthed any “red flags” when the allegation came to the newspaper’s attention in November 2017.
The woman described a sexual encounter that began with consensual kissing, but she said she eventually noticed that she could not move her neck. The woman alleged that Fairfax then forced her to perform oral sex through physical coercion, according to the Post.
The Post did not publish the story in November 2017 because it “could not find anyone who could corroborate either version,” and it found no evidence of similar allegations after interviewing several people who knew Fairfax in college, law school and during his political career.
Fairfax and his staff are sticking by their story, and are accusing the Post of acting without journalistic integrity given its professed inability to corroborate the story.
“The Washington Post, acknowledging that it had no corroboration, just smeared an elected official,” Burke said in a statement. “We ask further: What other major elected official in the Commonwealth of Virginia would be smeared with sexual allegations that were presented without corroboration?”
When asked Monday whether he would welcome his accuser to share her story with the legislature, Fairfax did not explicitly reject the idea.
“Anyone is free to speak up and be heard,” he said.
As a party, Democrats have declared their intolerance of sexual misconduct of any kind.
They mobilized en masse in an attempt to keep then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh from being confirmed to the high court after Christine Blasey Ford accused him of sexually assaulting her at a party in high school. Democrats argued that Ford’s testimony before the Senate was credible and compelling enough to disqualify Kavanaugh from a justice position.
Fairfax’s pushback ― in particular, implying that a sexual assault survivor’s allegation is less credible because the accuser reached out to the alleged assailant after the fact ― has already elicited some criticism in progressive circles.
Many sexual assault survivors have described befriending their attackers as a means of coping.
Lizzie Hylton, the political director of Clean Virginia, a Virginia-based progressive advocacy, highlighted that research, calling on Fairfax to “stop spreading rape myths.”