Fairfax Continues To Preside Over Va. Senate As Staffers Resign, Investigation Begins

Updated at 10:35 p.m. ET

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is refusing to step down from political office as fallout continues in the state capital after two women recently accused him of sexual assault.

Following those allegations, which Fairfax denies, the lieutenant governor has been placed on a leave of absence from his full-time job at a Northern Virginia law firm. That firm has hired external investigators to look into the allegations.

The international law firm, Morrison & Foerster, whose clients include large banks and corporations, said in a statement that it takes the allegations against Fairfax very seriously and that it is important to treat all persons making such allegations with respect and sensitivity. The law firm did not say how long Fairfax would be on leave.

The two women accuse Fairfax of sexually assaulting them years before he became Virginia’s lieutenant governor. He has been asked by multiple members of his own party to resign.

Meanwhile, some Virginia Democrats are meeting with a lawyer for the second accuser, Meredith Watson, and discussing the possibility of setting up an investigative committee modeled after one created in New Jersey to look into allegations against a top state official, according to Virginia Public Radio’s Michael Pope.

On Monday, NPR learned that two staff members for Fairfax had resigned along with two members of We Rise Together, a political action committee affiliated with him.

Fairfax’s chief of staff, Larry Roberts, told NPR the departures were “not an en masse resignation.”

“Each of them communicated to me their individual decisions and reasons,” Roberts said. “We greatly respect them as people and staff and will continue to do so.”

On Tuesday evening, Vanessa Tyson, the first woman to accuse Fairfax of assault, spoke publicly for the first time since coming forward. Tyson is a politics professor at Scripps College in California and a visiting fellow at Stanford University. She was a panelist for a symposium called “Betrayal and Courage in the Age of #MeToo” at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.

During the forum, Tyson did not mention Fairfax by name, but she spoke in general terms about the challenges survivors face in coming forward with allegations.

“There’s a recurring theme, at least when women come forward, this deliberate attempt to try to undermine someone’s credibility,” Tyson said. “And a prioritization, or a privileging, of women who might come from a higher socio-economic status.”

Tyson also had a message for survivors of abuse and assault: “They didn’t deserve what happened to them. They have nothing to be ashamed of. And they are not alone.”

All of Virginia’s top three elected officials have faced calls to resign amid a series of scandals that began on Feb. 1, when a photo surfaced from Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page depicting one person in blackface and another in a white Ku Klux Klan robe. Northam has declined to resign and instead has promised to seek forgiveness from Virginians and work to foster conversations about race. Attorney General Mark Herring, the third-ranking official, apologized that he had appeared in blackface as part of a costume in 1980.

Virginia Public Radio’s Michael Pope and WCVE’s Whittney Evans contributed to this report.

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