Dems accused of MeToo hypocrisy in Virginia

Democrats in Washington are fighting GOP allegations of hypocrisy over the political maelstrom roiling their party in Virginia.

The accusations come just months after national Democrats, near the height of the "Me Too" movement, demanded Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughJuan Williams: Buttigieg already making history Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle Fight over census citizenship question hits Supreme Court MORE abandon his Supreme Court nomination following allegations he had sexually assaulted a teenage girl when he was in high school.

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Republicans are now focusing on how Democrats have stopped short of calling for the resignation of Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D), who is facing similar allegations surrounding an incident also said to have occurred many years ago.

Many Capitol Hill Democrats are holding their fire and urging Virginia state officials to conduct an investigation.

The juxtaposed episodes — and the contrasting responses — are creating headaches for Democrats in Richmond and Washington; testing the party’s zero-tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment charges, regardless of how old; and prompting charges from across the aisle that Democrats are applying a double standard purely to protect one of their own.

Democrats “have not really been saying, ‘He’s got to go. He’s got to go.’ And it does go to show you have to be very careful when these allegations are made,” Rep. Robert AderholtRobert Brown AderholtAnti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age Barr forms team to probe FBI actions in Russia investigation: report The single-sentence Russia bombshell that Attorney General Barr delivered to Congress MORE (R-Ala.) said Thursday. “With the Kavanaugh thing, it makes you look like you have a double standard if you don’t do that across the board.”

Fairfax is one of three top Democrats in Virginia fighting to keep their seats amid potentially career-ending scandals. Gov. Ralph Northam is under fire for his association with a racist photograph in his 1984 medical school yearbook; and Attorney General Mark Herring is struggling to contain the backlash from revelations that he donned blackface as an undergraduate college student in 1980.

If Northam were to resign, Fairfax would become the nation’s only black governor.

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On top of that, The Virginian-Pilot reported Thursday that Virginia state Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R) was the managing editor of a college yearbook that published racist blackface photos and racial slurs directed at African-Americans and Asians.

"You know what Faulkner said? 'The past isn't dead, it isn't even past,' " said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinHouse Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report Dem lawmaker: Mueller report shows 'substantial body of evidence' on obstruction Washington in frenzy over release of Mueller report MORE (D), who represents a congressional district in neighboring Maryland. "And, you know, Virginia is one of those Faulknerian states."

Among the swirl of scandals, it’s been the Fairfax allegations that have attracted the most attention from conservatives, who are calling on Democrats to press the 39-year-old rising star to step down.

Fairfax’s “Democratic colleagues are standing with him and against her,” said conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson. “In the space of just a few months the standard for believing sexual assault accusers has changed completely.”

Fairfax has vehemently denied allegations from a Scripps College professor, Vanessa Tyson, that he sexually assaulted her in a hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. He was not a state officeholder at the time. 

While Fairfax said survivors of sexual assault should be listened to, he has described the 2004 encounter as “consensual.”

"I would like to encourage the media, my supporters and others to treat both the woman who made this allegation and my family with respect for how painful this situation can be for everyone involved," Fairfax said. "I wish her no harm or humiliation, nor do I seek to denigrate her or diminish her voice. But I cannot agree with a description of events that I know is not true."

Kavanaugh similarly denied the allegations facing him, and even some liberal Democrats acknowledged their dilemma as they scramble in search of the appropriate response to the recent events in Virginia.

"It's a fine mess that the top three have gotten themselves into,” said Rep. Wm. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayDivided Dems look to regroup John Lewis is endorsement every Dem candidate wants Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate MORE (D-Mo.). “And I don't know how this ends.”

In another parallel to the Kavanaugh episode, Fairfax last week re-hired the same law firm retained by the now Supreme Court justice, after initially employing their services in January of 2018. And Tyson, a Democrat, hired the firm that represented Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, also a California university professor. 

Democrats said Thursday that Tyson’s story is “credible” — especially since she has come forward publicly, provided many graphic details and has a stellar reputation — but they are not calling on Fairfax to resign.

“I’m inclined to believe that her statement is true. She seems very credible,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who served two terms as lieutenant governor during the 1990s. But he is not calling for Fairfax’s resignation. 

“I’m also going to look at the people who deal closely with him, especially in the African-American community, for first steps,” Beyer said.

Democratic Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Democratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Dems ask Justice Dept to release findings of Acosta-Epstein investigation MORE, a former Virginia governor who was former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIt is wrong to say 'no collusion' 10 factors making Russia election interference the most enduring scandal of the Obama era And the winner of the Robert Mueller Sweepstakes is — Vladimir Putin MORE’s 2016 running mate, said he didn’t have enough information about whether Fairfax needs to resign. But during his 2018 reelection campaign, he slammed his GOP challenger, Corey Stewart, for campaigning with Republicans accused of sexual assault while dismissing the allegations Ford made against Kavanaugh.

“We all believe it should be taken seriously, but I don't think you'll see us reach a conclusion about that,” Kaine told reporters Thursday.

"What we have is a very compelling and detailed statement of a serious, serious charge … by a respected professional, and we also have a very unequivocal denial of that charge by someone we know real well,” Kaine added. “But we don't have an investigation. We haven't seen him live. And so a lot of what I had when I did reach a conclusion in that [Blasey Ford] case, I don't have right now."

In a sign of just how thorny the Richmond uproar has become for Democrats, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTrump pushes back on impeachment talk: 'Tables are finally turning on the Witch Hunt!' Moulton enters 2020 White House race Trump takes aim at Dem talk of impeachment MORE (D-Calif.) — who last week called for Northam to resign — declined to weigh in Thursday on the fates of Fairfax and Herring. And she appeared ready to wash her hands of the whole affair.

“Virginians will resolve their issues,” she told reporters. “It's sad because they have some very talented leaders there, but they have to have the confidence of the electorate, and they have to have the confidence of the legislature that they have to work with.

“But I'll leave that up to them. I have enough to do here, without getting involved in the affairs of Virginia."

Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDurbin calls Mueller report findings on Trump team 'troubling' Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal MORE (D-Ill.) barked at reporters who pressed him about the Fairfax situation.

“I have so many things I’m working on. I’m just not getting into it. You don’t take no for an answer, do you?” he said. “I don’t know her. All I know is what I read in the newspaper.”

Asked about whether he believed Blasey Ford’s allegations were credible, Durbin replied: “I’m not getting into this.”

Some Democrats rejected the notion that they’re applying a double standard to Fairfax.

"Nobody asked Kavanaugh to resign — it was a matter of whether he was going to get a promotion or not,” said Rep. A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinDavid Bernhardt confirmed as new Interior chief Overnight Energy: Trump moves to speed up pipeline construction | House Dems urge Senate to reject Interior nominee | Dem offers plan for 'filling in the blanks' of Green New Deal House Dems urge Senate to reject Bernhardt nomination to Interior MORE (D-Va.), a former state legislator in Richmond who’s now a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.  “But just as in the Kavanaugh situation, what we really need to do is have an investigation. Obviously, that's not a congressional issue, it's a state issue.”

The trio of controversies rocking Richmond is also seeping into the 2020 Democratic presidential race. Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerWarren unveils plan to cancel student loan debt, create universal free college The Hill's Morning Report - Is impeachment back on the table? Booker: Barr's suggestion of spying on Trump campaign 'eroded' public's trust MORE (D-N.J.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisWarren unveils plan to cancel student loan debt, create universal free college Moulton enters 2020 White House race The Hill's Morning Report - Is impeachment back on the table? MORE (D-Calif.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandWarren unveils plan to cancel student loan debt, create universal free college Cory Booker has a problem in 2020: Kamala Harris Booker to supporter who wanted him to punch Trump: 'Black guys like us, we don't get away with that' MORE (D-N.Y.) all suggested Tyson’s allegations were credible and needed to be investigated.

“I support Dr. Tyson. She showed enormous courage in coming forward, and her very credible claims require investigation,” Gillibrand said. “In this country, institutional bias stacks against survivors, for the powerful. We have to support survivors first so their claims can be fully investigated.”

It’s unclear what kind of investigation could be launched into Fairfax, given that the alleged assault took place almost 15 years ago. Some Virginia Democrats suggested a special committee could be formed to look into the matter.

“Certainly her allegations should be looked into. I think her allegations need to be looked into,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzWasserman Schultz: 'We need a President, not a comic book villain' Lawmakers join musical stars to celebrate Grammys on the Hill Dem lawmakers will attempt tour of detention facility they say turned them away MORE (D-Fla.), the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, told The Hill. “As far as I know, she is the only one that’s made those allegations. And if she says it happened, and she has been as detailed as she has, I think an investigation is warranted.”

Even then, the ultimate fate of Fairfax would likely be controversial.

“How does he prove himself innocent of something that occurred 15 years ago? And then how does she verify what she described occurred?” asked Clay. “That's a tricky one.”

Jordain Carney and Cristina Marcos contributed.