Justin Fairfax: Second woman accuses Virginia deputy governor of sexual assault

Adam Forrest

A second woman has accused Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault, claiming the Democrat raped her 19 years ago while they were both students at Duke University.

Meredith Watson, 39, said in a statement that the state’s deputy governor attacked her in 2000. The statement described the alleged assault as “premeditated and aggressive,” and said they were never involved romantically despite being friends.

Mr Fairfax denied the allegation. He called it a “vicious and coordinated smear campaign” and insisted he would not resign from office.

The latest accusation comes two days after Vanessa Tyson, a 42-year-old political science professor, claimed Mr Fairfax sexually assaulted her in a Boston hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Ms Watson’s lawyer Nancy E. Smith said on Friday that her team had gathered statements from former classmates who said Ms Watson had “immediately” told friends that Mr Fairfax had raped her in 2000.

A New Jersey public relations firm representing Ms Watson also shared a 2016 email exchange with a female friend and 2017 text exchanges in which Ms Watson repeated the claim.

Following news of a second accuser, Democratic state lawmakers in Virginia issued a call for Mr Fairfax to resign, as did the Virginia Black Legislative Caucus. Several members of the state’s congressional delegation also said his position was untenable.

Yet the Democrat insisted he would clear his name while in office.

“It is demonstrably false,” said Mr Fairfax of the latest claim. “I have never forced myself on anyone ever. I demand a full investigation into these unsubstantiated and false allegations. Such an investigation will confirm my account because I am telling the truth.”

Duke spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said the university’s police department has no criminal reports naming or involving Mr Fairfax. Any accusation made through the student disciplinary process would be protected by student privacy laws, he added.

Police officials in Durham, North Carolina, where Duke is situated, said they had no records of an accusation against Mr Fairfax in 2000.

This is not the first time Ms Watson has accused someone of assault. Her lawyer confirmed that while in college she accused another man, a basketball player at Duke, of raping her when she was a sophomore.

Ms Smith said Ms Watson reported it to a top-level university administrator but received no help and was discouraged from taking the claim any further.

Duke officials said they had no immediate knowledge of the accusation against the basketball player but were researching the matter.

“At this time, Ms Watson is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character,” according to the lawyer’s statement.

“She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life. Similarly, she is not seeking any financial damages.”

Mr Fairfax with Governor Ralph Northam (Getty Images)

On Wednesday Ms Tyson said Mr Fairfax, then working as an aide to Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards, forced her to perform oral sex. Mr Fairfax responded by claiming his sexual encounter with Ms Tyson was consensual.

The accusations against Mr Fairfax have rocked an administration that was already struggling amid calls for the resignation of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam over a racist photo that appeared on his 1984 medical school yearbook page.

Mr Fairfax would be in line to become governor if Mr Northam were to resign.

Additional reporting by Associated Press