Republicans and Democrats at odds over bipartisan hearing on Fairfax allegations

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The two women accusing Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault called on Virginia lawmakers, in separate interviews with CBS’ Gayle King, to hold public hearings in the General Assembly to investigate their allegations. 

On Tuesday, citing those interviews, Republican Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) released a statement regarding the status of a potential hearing on the accusations against Mr. Fairfax. 

Speaker Cox made it clear that House Republicans have pushed for both Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Ms. Meredith Watson to speak at a legislative hearing but blamed Democrats for holding up the process.

Mr. Cox said during conversations with both woman’s lawyers he was informed that both Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson are prepared to testify, “but only if there is bipartisan cooperation to conduct the hearing.” 

Mr. Cox shared a letter that House Courts Committee Chairman Rob Bell sent to Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) on March 25 about what a proposed bipartisan hearing would entail.

“Unfortunately, despite the compelling accounts we have heard from Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson on television in recent days, Delegate Filler-Corn has made clear that she will not agree to a bipartisan General Assembly hearing of any nature,” Cox said. 

Mr. Cox references a letter sent from Del. Filler-Corn to Chairman Bell where she writes, “we do not believe that the House of Delegates, or any selection of legislators, is the appropriate body to hear these serious allegations.”  

The full statement from Speaker Cox can be read below:

For the last two days, we have watched excruciating first-hand accounts from two survivors of sexual assault who allege that Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax assaulted and raped them in separate incidents in the early 2000s. 

Over the course of the last few weeks, we have communicated with attorneys representing Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Ms. Meredith Watson. Through those conversations, they have told us that Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson are prepared to share their accounts at a legislative hearing, but only if there is bipartisan cooperation to conduct the hearing. 

In February, Republicans in the House of Delegates offered to work with our Democratic colleagues to establish a bipartisan subcommittee of the House Courts Committee with an equal number of members from both parties to hold a hearing. In February, some of our Democratic colleagues stated their opposition to a hearing, but Democratic leadership said it was wary to commit without knowing the specifics of the proposal. 

In a March 25 letter to Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, House Courts Committee Chairman Rob Bell laid out a specific set of parameters for a bipartisan hearing. Chairman Bell said in his letter that he hoped this proposal “would provide the bipartisan path forward” that the survivors are seeking, and said he would welcome ‘any counter-proposal that would create a bipartisan process to allow the three witnesses to testify, present evidence, and answer questions.

Unfortunately, despite the compelling accounts we have heard from Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson on television in recent days, Delegate Filler-Corn has made clear that she will not agree to a bipartisan General Assembly hearing of any nature. In a letter to Chairman Bell, she said, ‘we do not believe that the House of Delegates, or any selection of legislators, is the appropriate body to hear these serious allegations.

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. 

Dr. Tyson and Ms. Watson have said that they rightfully do not want their stories turned into partisan fodder and we wholeheartedly agree. Unfortunately, it appears that two survivors of sexual assault will be denied an opportunity to be heard in the bipartisan hearing they are requesting solely because Democrats in the House of Delegates are refusing to participate. 

We stand ready to proceed, and hope that our Democratic colleagues reconsider the consequences of their decision.” 

The statement from House Speaker Cox comes after the office of the Lt. Gov. released details from two polygraph tests that Fairfax took last week.  

House Democrats released their own statement on Tuesday, calling the proposal from Republicans as politically-motivated. The full statement can be read here: 

We commend Dr. Tyson’s and Ms. Watson’s bravery in coming forward, and we strongly support their right to be heard. Their recent interviews were incredibly moving and difficult to watch, and they should not be taken lightly by anyone. The allegations against our Lieutenant Governor are very serious, and on February 8, we called for his resignation.

Our Republican colleagues in the House of Delegates have repeatedly made it clear through their actions that their desire for a so-called hearing within the House of Delegates is driven by partisan politics. Every time Democrats have made a good-faith effort to communicate with House Republicans, they have chosen to respond to us via a press release or conference, rather than directly. Today is no different. 

The accusers and the accused deserve better than a politically-motivated and unprecedented spectacle such as the one that Republicans have proposed. The Speaker included a copy of our letter to Delegate Rob Bell in his press release today. That letter clearly outlines our concerns, and we encourage everyone to read it.” 

After Fairfax’s public appearance on Wednesday, Dr. Tyson’s lawyers released a statement calling on lawmakers to hold a bipartisan hearing. 

“Given the General Assembly’s inaction, Dr. Tyson decided to appear and answer questions about the incident in a national television interview,” the statement read in part. 

“We hope that the General Assembly and Lt. Governor Fairfax will agree to hold an open, fair hearing where all parties can come forward to provide information about this matter.” 

Find 8News on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram; send your news tips to iReport8@wric.com.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Capitol Connection

More Capitol Connection

Washington D.C. Bureau

More Washington-DC

Don't Miss

More Don't Miss

Local Events