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Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax Faces 2nd Allegation Of Sexual Assault


In Virginia, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is facing growing calls to resign after a second woman came forward today to accuse him of sexual assault. Fairfax denies the allegations of both his accusers. This follows days of turmoil in Virginia politics with all three top elected officials, all Democrats, facing scandals, putting the future leadership of the state in question.

For the latest, we are joined by NPR's Sarah McCammon. Hey, Sarah.


KELLY: Hi. So - hard to believe that it was only a week ago that all this began, that the now famous photo surfaced from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's yearbook, which has led to near-universal calls for his resignation from his fellow Democrats.


KELLY: It almost feels like deja vu tonight as now these calls are flooding in for Lieutenant Governor Fairfax to resign. What exactly is this second allegation?

MCCAMMON: So, yeah, all of this would've been almost unimaginable a week ago before all this broke, but now Virginia really is facing an absolutely cascade of scandal. And the latest news came this afternoon from a woman named Meredith Watson. Through her attorney, she says Justin Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2000 when both were students at Duke University. Watson says the two were friendly but never had a romantic relationship, and she says she was upset when she heard about the other allegation against Fairfax that emerged this week. Watson calls on Fairfax to resign, and she says she's coming forward out of a sense of civic duty. And finally, Mary Louise, she says the details of her alleged attack were similar to those described by Professor Vanessa Tyson, who came forward earlier in the week.

KELLY: And just to remind what Professor Tyson is alleging, she also is talking about an alleged assault that happened some 15 years ago, she says.

MCCAMMON: Right. She says Fairfax assaulted her in 2004 at the Democratic National Convention. She says what began as consensual kissing quickly escalated into a sexual assault. Fairfax has said it was entirely consensual, and Vanessa Tyson, who is now a college professor in California, came forward a few days ago. Now there's this second allegation from Meredith Watson. And a lot of Democrats who'd previously been kind of on the fence, a little circumspect, asking for time to gather facts are now saying Fairfax should go.

KELLY: OK. And we - as we said, he is denying allegations from both of these women. What else is he saying? Has he given us any more detail about his version of events?

MCCAMMON: Right. Well, after that first allegation, he called for respect for Tyson and for listening to women when they come forward. But after this second allegation which, again, he denies, Fairfax seems to be in fighting mode. He issued a statement today calling this allegation demonstrably false, called it all a vicious and coordinated smear campaign against him. He is calling for a full investigation, promising to clear his name. And Fairfax says he will not resign.

KELLY: And as a reminder, all of this is getting so much national attention, more national attention than might be paid otherwise to a lieutenant governor of a state because the governor, Ralph Northam, is also facing calls that are not going away for him to resign. He told his senior staff today that he's not planning to do that. He intends to remain in office. So where does this leave the future of leadership for Virginia's state government?

MCCAMMON: Right. It's difficult, and this is a bigger story than just one person because you, again, have all three top officials facing problems. Northam, the governor, is under a lot of pressure to resign; Fairfax, the lieutenant governor, under increasing pressure. The third top official, Attorney General Mark Herring, also a Democrat, acknowledged this week that he, too, had worn blackface in 1980 and apologized.

So Democrats are in an awkward position because the next person in line, number four, is the House speaker, a Republican. And so it creates a lot of turmoil, a lot of uncertainty. There are calls from lots of Democrats for Fairfax to step down and at least from one delegate here in Virginia, a Democrat, saying Democrats need to figure this out and put together a plan, and all three need to go.

KELLY: NPR's Sarah McCammon - thanks, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.