Trouble deepens for Va. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax; accuser hires Christine Blasey Ford's lawyer

Virginia's lieutenant governor faces assault allegation; Washington Post denies it refuted his accuser's account

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published February 5, 2019 2:30PM (EST)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (AP/Steve Helber)
Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (AP/Steve Helber)

Vanessa Tyson, the woman who has accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual misconduct in a 2004 encounter, has now retained the same law firm that formerly represented Christine Blasey Ford, who said she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh when both were in high school.

Tyson, who was first identified by the conservative website that broke the story, is  a professor at Scripps College in California. She has retained the services of the law firm of Katz, Marshall and Banks, according to NPR. That firm helped Ford draw attention to her accusations against Kavanaugh last year, so it is reasonable to assume it was hired to assist Fairfax's accuser in a similar fashion.

At first, Fairfax attempted to discredit the accusation against him by issuing a statement claiming that the Washington Post had investigated Tyson's story and found it contained "significant red flags and inconsistencies." The Post has since responded, writing in a Monday article that its decision not to run a story about Tyson's allegations did not necessarily indicate they were false:

The woman described a sexual encounter that began with consensual kissing and ended with a forced act that left her crying and shaken. She said Fairfax guided her to the bed, where they continued kissing, and then at one point she realized she could not move her neck. She said Fairfax used his strength to force her to perform oral sex.

The Post, in phone calls to people who knew Fairfax from college, law school and through political circles, found no similar complaints of sexual misconduct against him. Without that, or the ability to corroborate the woman’s account — in part because she had not told anyone what happened — The Post did not run a story.

Tyson's accusation, in a social media post that has since been published online, claimed that Fairfax sexually assaulted the accuser "during the DNC Convention in Boston in 2004." Fairfax was a staffer on John Kerry's presidential campaign at the time, and has admitted he had a sexual encounter with Tyson in Boston. He has said that it was consensual sex between two unmarried people, and has questioned the timing of the accusation, given that he may become governor of Virginia at any moment.

In an unrelated case that has captivated the world of politics, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who like Fairfax is a Democrat, has come under attack for a photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page that featured two men wearing racist costumes, one in blackface and the other in Ku Klux Klan regalia. Northam initially apologized for the photo, but now says that neither of the men depicted is him.

Northam has been asked to resign by a number of high-profile Democrats, including most of the probable 2020 presidential candidates and both of Virginia's U.S. senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. To this point, he has refused. If and when he does leave office, Fairfax would be sworn in as the new governor.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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