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Petersen

Count Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, among the Democratic lawmakers who don’t want a public hearing in the General Assembly on the sexual assault allegations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.

“I understand these allegations are made. I understand that some people think that they should be believed, for whatever reason, and I respect that. To me personally I don’t know what happened so I’m just not going to draw any conclusions,” Petersen said Tuesday on John Fredericks’ radio show.

“But the General Assembly — we need to be about representing the people of Virginia, not trying to figure out what happened in some bar in 2004. That’s just my opinion.”

California professor Vanessa Tyson has alleged that Fairfax, a Democrat, sexually assaulted her in a hotel room in Boston in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention. Meredith Watson, who was a classmate of Fairfax’s at Duke University, has said Fairfax raped her in 2000.

Fairfax, who is considering running for governor in 2021, has denied the allegations, has said they are lies designed to derail his political career, and has written letters to prosecutors in Massachusetts and North Carolina asking for criminal investigations.

Watson and Tyson have asked for a bipartisan public hearing before the General Assembly; House Republicans outlined a plan for such a hearing, but House Democrats have resisted. Republicans then floated the idea of holding a hearing during the upcoming July 9 session that Gov. Ralph Northam called for lawmakers to discuss gun legislation.

Petersen said the assembly isn’t able to handle such a hearing.

“We’re not designed to be a court of law,” he said. “If we invite people in to make a statement, is someone going to cross-examine them? Is someone going to question them with prior inconsistent statements? Is someone going to ask for, you know, physical evidence? DNA evidence?”

“No, of course not.”

After Fredericks tweeted Petersen’s quote about “what happened in some bar,” at least one Democratic activist spoke up on Twitter.

“This is a horrifyingly dismissive way to talk about rape,” Lizzie Hylton wrote.

“Sexual violence cannot be trivialized as something that ‘happened in some bar’ years ago. It is a brutal crime that the American people deserve to have taken seriously, even when that isn’t politically convenient.”

Petersen, reached by phone Tuesday, reiterated that the General Assembly is not equipped to investigate something alleged to have happened long before Fairfax took office in January 2018.

“I didn’t mean to be dismissive of anybody’s claims or anybody’s allegations but again, candidly, frankly, those are not issues that should be before the General Assembly,” he said. “We are not a court of law.”

Petersen and other Democrats in the legislature will hold a retreat with lobbyists this week at the Omni Homestead Resort in Bath County.

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