Virginia lieutenant governor denies second sexual assault allegation

Virginia lieutenant governor denies second sexual assault allegation

By Katharine Jackson

 

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Justin Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, drinks before opening the state's Senate meeting during a session of the General Assembly in Richmond, Virginia, U.S, February 8, 2019. REUTERS/Jay Paul

 

RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who earlier this week was accused of a 2004 sexual assault that he has denied, on Friday faced a new allegation that he raped a fellow Duke University student in 2000, according to a law firm representing his accuser.

 

Fairfax, 39, who is first in line to succeed the state's embattled governor, Ralph Northam, a fellow Democrat under intense pressure to resign for his admitted racially offensive behaviour, denied the latest accusation as "demonstrably false."

 

In a statement from his spokesman, Faifax said he has "never forced myself on anyone ever" and demanded a "full investigation into these unsubstantiated and false allegations."

 

"I will clear my good name and I have nothing to hide," he wrote, branding the allegations as part of a "vicious and coordinated smear campaign ... being orchestrated against me." He concluded by declaring: "I will not resign."

 

The woman who made the new accusation, Meredith Watson, was "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," the law firm that is representing her said in a statement.

 

The firm, New Jersey-based Smith Mullin, said Watson was "not seeking any financial damages," and said her attorneys had notified Fairfax through his lawyers "that Ms. Watson hopes he will resign from public office."

 

The latest accusation deepened a political crisis in Virginia that began with the revelation last Friday that Northam's medical school yearbook page contained a racist photo, followed by admissions from Northam and the state's attorney general, Mark Herring, that each had darkened their faces to imitate black performers in separate incidents during the 1980s.

 

Should all three men be forced to resign, Democrats would lose the governorship to the state's Republican speaker of the House of Delegates, who is third in the line of succession, after Fairfax and Herring.

 

In its statement about Watson's accusation, Smith Mullin said the attack by Fairfax "was premeditated and aggressive," while also saying that Fairfax and Watson "were friends but never dated or had any romantic relationship."

 

The law firm also said Watson had "shared her account of the rape with friends in a series of emails and Facebook messages that are now in our possession."

 

Additionally, the firm said it has statements from former classmates corroborating that Watson had immediately told friends about the alleged rape.

 

In the uproar immediately following revelations last weekend about Northam's 1984 blackface appearance and a racist yearbook photo of two individuals - one in blackface and the other dressed in white robes of the Ku Klux Klan - calls for Northam's resignation quickly escalated.

 

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-- © Copyright Reuters 2019-02-09

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