Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who over the weekend was championed by many Democrats as a successor to embattled Gov. Ralph Northam, is now fiercely defending his own reputation in the face of a sexual assault allegation.
Fairfax said it was no coincidence that the allegation, which was published on the same conservative website Sunday night that first published a photo from Northam’s page in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook showing a man in blackface and one in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, surfaced just days after the Northam bombshell.
“Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of potentially my being elevated that that’s when this uncorroborated smear comes out? Does anybody believe that’s a coincidence?” Fairfax asked a swarm of reporters Monday at the Capitol, where the lieutenant governor presided over the Senate chamber during a long day of legislative business.
The allegation that Fairfax sexually assaulted a woman in a hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention stunned Democratic lawmakers, several of whom declined to comment Monday. A request for comment to the Senate Democratic Caucus went unreturned.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement saying it takes “all allegations of sexual assault or misconduct with the utmost seriousness. Given the recent allegations regarding Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, the VLBC will continue to assess this developing situation as more details become available.”
Fairfax’s defense against the allegations kicked off before dawn Monday, hours after the website Big League Politics published elements of an allegation by a woman who said Fairfax sexually assaulted her at the Democratic convention in 2004. The initial story was based on a personal message allegedly from Adria Scharf, executive director of the Richmond Peace Education Center, that included comments from the alleged victim, a Facebook friend of Scharf’s.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch generally does not publish the names of alleged victims of sexual assault. The Times-Dispatch made multiple attempts Monday to reach the alleged victim directly and through organizations she is connected with, but she did not respond.
The Washington Post reported Monday that the same woman approached the newspaper after the November 2017 election, and that, unable to corroborate her claims or unearth similar accusations against Fairfax, it decided to not publish a story.
The Post detailed the accusation and investigative effort in its Monday report. According to the outlet, Fairfax’s accuser said that what began as a consensual encounter in his hotel room in Boston turned violent when he forced her to perform oral sex.
Efforts by the outlet to reach people with connections to Fairfax through college, law school and his political network did not turn up similar complaints of sexual misconduct, according to the article. “Without that, or the ability to corroborate the woman’s account — in part because she had not told anyone what happened — the Post did not run a story,” the article reads.
Fairfax, who denied the allegations to the Post, told reporters Monday that “everything was 100 percent consensual,” later adding, “There was no inappropriate contact whatsoever.”
Fairfax said the woman sought him out after the encounter, saying she wanted to go to New York City to meet with him and introduce him to her mother. “And years later now, we have a totally fabricated story out of the blue that’s meant to attack me because of where I am in politics,” Fairfax said.
The Washington Post denied claims in Fairfax’s statement that it had found “significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations.” The Post reported: “Fairfax and the woman told different versions of what happened in the hotel room with no one else present. The Post could not find anyone who could corroborate either version.”
In response, Fairfax spokeswoman Lauren Burke issued a statement that said, “The Washington Post, acknowledging that it had no corroboration, just smeared an elected official.”
The Post quoted editor Marty Baron in its story: “Lt. Gov. Fairfax is a public official who may well rise to the position of governor. ... He began the morning by issuing a statement regarding allegations against him, making specific representations about Post reporting that had not resulted in publication. We then had an obligation to clarify the nature of both the allegations and our reporting.”
During his statements to reporters at the Capitol, Fairfax was asked about a news release from Collective PAC on Sunday that said members of Northam’s team had “now decided to start attacking Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax by spreading lies to reporters and state leaders in an attempt to quell support for the Lt. Governor as Governor Northam’s impending successor should he resign.”
When asked if he thought Northam’s team was spreading bad information about him, Fairfax said he didn’t know where the information was coming from. “We have heard different things,” he said. He then made his comment that it was not a coincidence that the allegation was coming out now.
Northam spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel said in a statement that the governor’s office “had absolutely no part in these allegations surfacing.”
Scharf, on whom Big League Politics hung its initial post, said in an email to The Times-Dispatch that she did not supply the site with a copy of a conversation on her phone featuring the allegation.
“I am named and quoted on a media website that has promoted conspiracy theories and which has a right wing political agenda,” Scharf wrote. “I did not share any quote or communicate with the site — and I do not in any way share their divisive agenda.”
She did not respond to additional questions.
Elsewhere, reactions to the accusation were tempered compared with the calls for Fairfax to lead the state in Northam’s stead. The Democratic Party of Virginia, whose chairwoman said the organization “[could] think of no better person” to replace Northam, declined a request for comment Monday.
The longest-serving woman in the House, Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, who has pressed for a stronger sexual harassment policy in the legislature, declined to comment on the Fairfax allegation Monday night.
“I just haven’t had time to absorb all the facts,” Watts said.
Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, who watched some of Fairfax’s news conference, also declined to comment.
Sens. Lionell Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake, and Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, also declined to comment when asked for their reaction to the allegation against Fairfax.
The office of Attorney General Mark Herring did not respond to a request for comment.