Former Va. Lt. Gov. Fairfax: FBI asks about 2019 allegations
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The FBI has recently conducted interviews about the origin of the sexual assault allegations made in 2019 against then-Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, according to Fairfax and several others who said they were interviewed.
Fairfax, who said he met for several hours with the FBI in early June, welcomed the inquiry.
The 43-year-old Democratic attorney, who left public office in January, has consistently denied the assault allegations against him, which have not resulted in criminal charges, and has long called for law enforcement to investigate them. He maintains he had consensual encounters with the women who have accused him of assault and has insisted that their complaints against him were part of a politically motivated smear campaign.
Three other people confirmed to The Associated Press that they had been interviewed, insisting on anonymity to discuss what they and Fairfax believe to be an ongoing investigation. A fourth person familiar with the matter who also insisted on anonymity confirmed that Fairfax had been interviewed. That person was not one of those interviewed.
Dee Rybiski, a Richmond-based FBI spokeswoman, declined to comment. The FBI does not typically confirm or deny the existence of investigations.
The allegations against Fairfax surfaced publicly in February 2019, as he appeared poised to become Virginia’s governor because of a scandal that had erupted over a racist photo on then-Gov. Ralph Northam’s yearbook page. With Northam facing near-unanimous calls to resign, Fairfax would have been elevated to the post. But then two women days apart accused him of an assault in 2004 and rape in 2000, resulting in demands that Fairfax resign and blunting the pressure on Northam. Both men ultimately went on to finish their terms.
Fairfax, a former federal prosecutor and civil litigator, said he has been in touch with the FBI on an “ongoing basis” since February 2019, providing evidence of what he has long alleged was a coordinated effort to block him from becoming governor. The news of his and other interviews was first reported by The Intercept.
Fairfax has claimed for years — without proof — that former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and his close ally, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, played a role in surfacing the allegations, something McAuliffe and Stoney have called absurd. Fairfax points in part to connections between a former Stoney advisor and one of his accusers. Fairfax was once considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, and he competed against McAuliffe and three others for last year’s Democratic nomination for governor; Stoney is also widely seen as a contender for higher office.
Fairfax said the FBI did not disclose the full scope of its apparent investigation but asked him questions about his concerns.
Stoney said at a news conference Wednesday that the FBI had not reached out to him or anyone in his “operation.” Stoney said he believes the women’s allegations, called the idea that he was involved in a smear campaign “ridiculous” and added the only one talking about the FBI was Fairfax.
“These are claims by an individual who has been accused of rape, bottom line,” he said.
Jake Rubenstein, a spokesman for McAuliffe, said McAuliffe “knows nothing about any of this. Period.”
Attorneys for the women, Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, defended their clients and criticized the idea that the FBI might be investigating.
Nancy Erika Smith, an attorney for Watson, said in a statement: “If it is true that the FBI is actually investigating two victims of Justin Fairfax, shame on the FBI. This latest abuse is obviously at the urging of Fairfax and his political benefactors and PR team.”
Debra Katz, an attorney for Vanessa Tyson, said neither she nor Tyson had been contacted by the FBI. She said she would be “shocked” if there was “a real FBI investigation” and suggested Fairfax was trying to weaponize the suggestion of one.
The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they are victims of sexual assault, but both women came forward publicly with their allegations against Fairfax.
Tyson said Fairfax — at the time a Columbia Law School student serving as an aide to Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards — forced her to perform oral sex in his hotel room during the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004. Two days after Tyson’s statement, Watson issued her own, accusing Fairfax of raping her in 2000, when they were students at Duke University.
Fairfax has said that in the case of his encounter with Watson, an eyewitness was present in the room. That person has not responded to repeated interview requests from the AP and has not spoken publicly to confirm or deny Fairfax’s assertion.
Watson and her attorney have declined to address whether a third person was in the room.
One person who described being interviewed by the FBI in early July was asked if they had ever heard anything about money being exchanged in relation to the allegations, the person said.
The person had heard of something similar and reported it at the time to a spokesperson for Fairfax. The person, who is not close with Fairfax, has no firsthand knowledge of any payments and doubted that the individual who made the comment did either, the person said.
A second person who was interviewed was asked whether they had any knowledge about connections between the mayor’s office and the women or any possible payments to the women, the person said.
The third individual who was interviewed described being asked similar questions and provided the AP a copy of an apparent email exchange with the FBI.
Separately, Tommy Bennett, president of the Danville branch of the NAACP, told The Post that the FBI reached out to him to ask about the allegations.
Fairfax finished his term as lieutenant governor — a mostly ceremonial role that involves presiding over the state Senate — in January. He got about 4% of the vote in last year’s Democratic primary. McAuliffe won that contest, then went on to lose the general election to Republican Glenn Youngkin.
Associated Press reporter Eric Tucker reported from Washington.