House leaders spar over investigating Fairfax sexual assault allegations
RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A battle in the House of Delegates is becoming heated over whether the General Assembly should investigate sexual assault allegations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
Republicans say Democrats are trying to run out the clock before session ends in two days. Democrats say accuse Republicans of putting on a “political show.”
There was no mincing words.
“How is that bipartisan?” asked House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn. “How is that not political games?”
“I’m frustrated, no question about that,” said Republican Speaker Kirk Cox.
Tempers flared over whether and how the General Assembly could investigate the sexual assault allegations.
Lawyers for both of Fairfax’s accusers, Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, issued statements this week calling on lawmakers to hold a public hearing.
“The victims have constantly asked us to do our duty," Cox said. "If you look at our rules, especially our committees, committees are set up to look into the conduct of public officials.”
Cox says he has proposed that a House Courts of Justice subcommittee, made up of five republicans and five democrats, could hear the accusers’ and Fairfax’s testimony.
Democrats say they haven’t been given enough specifics to decide on whether such a hearing would provide due process.
“They said they wanted to get back to us with details, ideas and specifics of what they were talking about," Filler-Corn said. "They were unable to provide us with any details.”
Cox says Democrats asked Republicans to sign onto a statement saying “it’s impossible” to conduct a thorough investigation in the limited number of days left in session. The statement says the matter would be best left to law enforcement, pointing out a Boston area district attorney has offered to investigate Tyson’s allegation.
“Our concern is about impeding a criminal investigation," Filler-Corn said. "That is one of our concerns, and we have laid that out.”
Cox said Democrats have not said yes or no to the proposal.
“I’ve been asking for three or four days and I was very pointed yesterday that I really needed an answer,” he said.
In response to this on-going debate and the accusers’ call for a public hearing, Fairfax’s office issued the following statement:
"The Lieutenant Governor has remained steadfast in denying the allegations against him. He has repeatedly made clear his desire for a full, fair, independent, impartial, and non-political investigation. He was the first and remains the only party to these matters to call for such an investigation in order to get to the truth.
It would be extraordinary and unprecedented to initiate a General Assembly inquiry about matters that are better left to law enforcement.
The Lieutenant Governor remains confident that the truth will prevail and that he will be exonerated."
This year’s General Assembly session is scheduled to end in two days. However, a hearing does not have to take place before then. The state constitution allows lawmakers to return at a later date to hold a hearing if that’s what they decide to do.
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