After emotional interviews with the two women who accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault aired on national television — including their pleas for a public hearing — House Republican leaders said Tuesday that Democrats are blocking efforts toward such a forum.
House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said in a statement that Democratic leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, has repeatedly spurned offers by House Courts Committee Chairman Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, to hold a bipartisan hearing that would allow the two women to testify.
“There should be no mistake about what has happened here: the alleged victims are seeking a bipartisan hearing; Republicans are seeking a bipartisan hearing; Democrats in the House of Delegates are refusing to allow that to happen,” Cox said.
In a letter to Filler-Corn dated March 25 and shared by Cox’s office, Bell said the subcommittee that would hold the hearing would consist of five Republicans and five Democrats. It would include testimony from the alleged victims, Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, as well as Fairfax. Each would have a chance to present evidence.
Tyson and Watson sat down for interviews with CBS News’ Gayle King that aired nationally this week and repeated their calls for a public hearing where their allegations could be heard under oath. Cox said that attorneys for both women told his office that the women would participate only under bipartisan cooperation.
The House Democratic Caucus pushed back on Republicans’ claims Tuesday, saying: “The accusers and the accused deserve better than a politically-motivated and unprecedented spectacle such as the one that Republicans have proposed.”
A spokeswoman also pointed to a letter to Bell dated Sunday — when clips of the Tyson and Watson interviews began to air — where Filler-Corn echoed earlier comments pointing to law enforcement as the best avenue to address the claims.
“We do not believe that the House of Delegates, or any selection of legislators, is the appropriate body to hear these serious allegations,” Filler-Corn said, referring to the House Democratic Caucus.
“Law enforcement officials are best equipped to investigate these matters, and we certainly would not want to harm their inquiries or deny due process to either the complainants or the Lieutenant Governor by conducting a hearing that could easily be exploited for political purposes.”
In response to Tyson’s and Watson’s requests to be publicly heard, Filler-Corn said the caucus is “open to discussing the option of engaging an independent, third-party entity” that would conduct a fair hearing in a non-political environment.
Lawmakers will reconvene in Richmond on Wednesday to wrap up the year’s legislative work.
Watson, who in February accused Fairfax of raping her while both attended Duke University, told King in an interview that aired Tuesday that she wants the “Virginia legislature to do the right thing.”
“I want the people of Virginia to know the truth,” Watson said, referring to her requests for a public hearing on the allegations against Fairfax.
Watson’s comments are part of a wide-ranging interview that followed a similar interview with Tyson.
Tyson said in her interview that aired earlier this week that a public hearing is different from an investigation because it allows the women’s voices to be heard.
“Particularly for survivors, I think this is incredibly important. … They need to be heard. We need to be seen, right? We need to be treated as the human beings that we are,” Tyson said.
“Investigations often allow people in power to sweep things under the rug.”
In a statement, Fairfax again denied the allegations by Tyson and Watson. A news release from his office Sunday said Fairfax had submitted to a polygraph with a former FBI expert that showed he was being truthful when he said the encounters were consensual.
During her interview with King, Watson said that while both attended Duke University in 2000, Fairfax locked her in his bedroom, restrained her against her will and raped her.
“He did things that you shouldn’t do to someone without their permission. And I tried several times to get up and leave and was pushed back down,” Watson said.
Watson said she told two friends immediately following the incident about what had happened, identifying Fairfax.
She also claimed that Fairfax preyed on her, knowing she had been raped in the past by another student at the school.
Similarly, Tyson said in an interview with King, which aired Monday, that she believed Fairfax “took advantage” of the fact she is a survivor of incest.
Fairfax has denied Watson’s allegation, saying that their encounter was consensual.
Watson said that since coming forward, she has faced criticism and unfair scrutiny, in part due to being black.
“There’s this expectation that we are supposed to protect our black men at all costs,” Watson said.
She added: “And there’s been this idea that black women, I guess maybe because this had happened to us throughout history, that it’s just something we’re supposed to grin and bear and you keep it going.”
Watson said that she was prompted to come forward by Tyson’s allegations, and feels “guilty” she didn’t come forward sooner.
“It happened to her after it happened to me. And had I had the strength or the courage to say something in 2000, maybe it never would’ve happened to her.
“And I know the pain that she’s had to live with since it happened. And nobody should have to go through this. And I feel awful. I feel awful.”