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Fairfax faces rising impeachment talks / February 11, 2019
Democratic lawmakers have begun circulating a draft resolution to begin impeachment proceedings for Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax in the wake of allegations by two women of sexual assault by Fairfax in 2004 and 2000.

Mounting calls for the lieutenant governor’s ouster come from his own party after Fairfax, a 39-year-old Democrat and only the second African American to hold statewide office in Virginia, denied the accusations and vowed this week to remain in office.

He has called for an FBI investigation into the accusations by two women — Vanessa Tyson, a California college professor, and Meredith Watson, a fellow student at Duke University in 2000 — who say Fairfax forced himself upon them in a sexually violent manner.

Tyson, the first accuser to step forward, has said that Fairfax made her perform oral sex on him after what began as a consensual encounter in a hotel room in 2004. Watson, Fairfax’s second public accuser, says she was raped by Fairfax in 2000 when both were undergraduate students at Duke.

Fairfax, who served as a federal prosecutor before entering electoral politics, has fired back that the allegations are part of a concerted smear campaign against him at the same time Virginians are dealing with scandals affecting fellow Democratic officeholders, Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring.

Northam has faced his own calls to step down from office, both from Democrats and Republicans, after a racist photo of two students dressed in blackface and a KKK robe was discovered on his personal page in his medical school yearbook. Days later, as Northam was overtaken by controversy, Herring admitted to his own blackface incident, in the early ’80s, when he was 19 years old and went to a party dressed up as rapper Kurtis Blow.

The draft resolution by Democratic lawmakers states, “Whereas the House of Delegates believes all allegations of sexual assault must be taken with the utmost seriousness; and whereas the House of Delegates believes the allegations made by Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Ms. Meredith Watson to be credible in nature, while also respecting the principles of due process; now, therefore, be it resolved by the House of Delegates that proceedings for the impeachment of Lieutenant Governor Justin E. Fairfax shall be initiated.”

A vote on the resolution could come in the next few days and would direct the House Committee for Courts of Justice to hold hearings on the accusations. Delegate Patrick Hope, an Arlington Democrat, wrote to colleagues that the resolution does not call for Fairfax’s impeachment, but rather lays out a path for investigating the charges that could lead to Fairfax’s removal from office.

The prospects for impeachment are highly uncertain, despite calls for Fairfax to step down from his own party leadership and similar demands by top Republican lawmakers. Democrats from U.S. senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to the Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate have called on Fairfax to resign.

However, others in Richmond, including longtime state Senator Dick Saslaw, oppose the idea of impeachment and have called into question whether the Virginia Constitution’s requirement of “high crimes and misdemeanors” while in office fits the description for Fairfax, who is said to have committed the alleged acts more than a decade before running for public office.

As Virginia’s part-time lieutenant governor, Fairfax presides over the state Senate during the legislative session and is empowered to cast a vote to break ties.

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