Va. lieutenant governor's aides deny 'defamatory' assault allegation against him

Va. lieutenant governor's aides deny 'defamatory' assault allegation against him
© Greg Nash

Top aides for Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) issued a statement Monday denying a sexual assault allegation against the official, the latest development in a tumultuous few days in the state's capital.

Fairfax's chief of staff and his communications director tweeted a joint statement shortly before 3 a.m. that addressed what his office called a "false and unsubstantiated allegation" detailed in an "online publication."

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The statement offered few specifics, but appeared to reference an allegation published Sunday night on Big League Politics, a right-wing site that first reported the existence of the photo on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's (D) yearbook page showing individuals in blackface and a Ku Klux Klan robe.

"Lt. Governor Fairfax has an outstanding and well-earned reputation for treating people with dignity and respect," the aides for Fairfax said. "He has never assaulted anyone – ever – in any way, shape or form.”

Fairfax "will take appropriate legal action against those attempting to spread this defamatory and false allegation," his aides said.

The aides said that the accuser in the case approached The Washington Post with her allegations more than a year ago, around the time Fairfax was sworn in as lieutenant governor.

Fairfax's office said the Post spent months investigating the allegation, but opted not to publish a story in light of facts supporting the lieutenant governor's denial and inconsistencies with the allegation.

The Post on Monday detailed its previous investigation into the alleged incident and explained why it decided not to run an article after being contacted by the woman after the November 2017 election. 

In a statement released later Monday, Fairfax’s office claimed the Washington Post had “smeared” him by detailing the allegations made against the deputy governor yet “acknowledging it had no corroboration” for the accusations it detailed. 

“As a father, husband and public servant, he knows that sexual assault is a very serious matter and survivors of assault deserve to be heard,” Fairfax’s office said. “In this particular case, however, no amount of investigation will change the reality that he has not engaged in any such untoward actions.”

Marty Baron, executive editor of the Post, responded to that statement by noting the news outlet “had an obligation to clarify the nature of both the allegations and our reporting” once Fairfax made specific assertions about the outlet’s role in the woman’s claims.

 

Fairfax and the woman first met in Boston at the 2004 Democratic national convention, according to the Post. She said that after they realized they had a mutual friend, Fairfax asked her to walk with him to his hotel room to retrieve some documents.

The newspaper said Fairfax and the woman offered different accounts of what occurred in the hotel room, and that it could not find anyone to corroborate either version. Fairfax has denied the woman's account through his attorneys and characterized the encounter as consensual, the Post reported.

The Post added that Fairfax's aides were incorrect when they said in Monday's statement that the newspaper found "significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations."

Fairfax, the state's second black lieutenant governor, has emerged as a national figure as Northam grapples with a barrage of calls to resign. The governor has been engulfed by scandal since Friday, when a photo first surfaced from his 1984 medical school yearbook that showed individuals in blackface and a Ku Klux Klan robe.

Northam initially apologized for appearing in the photo, but later insisted he was not in the picture. He acknowledged wearing blackface another time decades ago when he dressed up as Michael Jackson.

The embattled governor has resisted calls to resign from state and national Democratic leaders.

Fairfax, who would ascend to the governor's mansion in the event that Northam steps down, has not called for the governor's resignation.

Updated at 5:47 p.m.