Boston-area DA ready to investigate claims against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax

Posted at 11:56 AM, Feb 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-13 11:56:48-05

The district attorney in Suffolk, Massachusetts, has told a woman she is willing to investigate her claims that Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax sexually assaulted her at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins sent a letter to Vanessa Tyson’s attorneys last week saying her office will investigate if Tyson chooses to file a criminal complaint against Fairfax, Jake Wark, a spokesman for her office confirmed to CNN. The Boston Globe first reported the letter by Rollins.

Rollins told CNN in a statement her office is “ready, willing and able” to help and prepared to deal with the situation on Tyson’s terms.

Tyson has previously said that she is not interested in pursuing criminal charges against Fairfax, but did not respond to CNN’s request for comment after Rollins’ statement. Tyson’s attorneys have yet to respond to the offer from Rollins.

Fairfax has denied Tyson’s claims, saying that the encounter was consensual.

“When it comes to sexual assault, every survivor’s reaction is different,” Rollins wrote in a statement. “That includes their decisions about disclosing to law enforcement. What I want all survivors to know is that we’re ready, willing, and able to help.”

“These are unique circumstances. We wouldn’t normally discuss a matter like this publicly, but the decision was made to self-identify and I’d be remiss if I didn’t make my office and its resources available to her — and to other survivors who might be following the case and wrestling with whether to come forward to law enforcement,” Rollins continued.

Fairfax has also said he is willing to cooperate with an investigation. In a statement, his spokesperson said he would cooperate with Rollins should she launch a probe into the matter.

“The Lt. Governor has stated repeatedly that he has never sexually assaulted anyone ever. He has called publicly for a fair, impartial investigation. He has nothing to hide,” a spokesperson for Fairfax told CNN in a statement. “He would cooperate fully with an investigation by the Suffolk County District if a criminal complaint is filed. In that event, the Lt. Governor will explore all options with regard to filing his own criminal complaint in response to the filing of a false criminal complaint against him.”

Lawmakers in Virginia are struggling with how to handle the explosive allegations against Fairfax. Impeachment appears to be off the table for now — Del. Patrick Hope’s attempt to file articles of impeachment, which would then lead to a natural investigatory process, has been stymied. His Democratic colleagues, led by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, forcefully pushed back on the idea and Hope retreated. Republicans, hoping to stay out of the fray, have been reluctant to apply pressure to force the issue.

Del. Lamont Bagby, the chair of the LBC, has insisted that an investigation into the allegations is necessary, but he has indicated that it shouldn’t take place in Virginia but rather the places where the alleged incidents occurred. In addition to Tyson, Meredith Watson has accused Fairfax of raping her in 2000 while they were in college at Duke University in North Carolina. If neither woman is willing to file a criminal complaint, investigations in those states will not occur. Still Bagby believes, it shouldn’t take place in Virginia’s legislature either.

“I don’t think that is our role,” Bagby said. “The General Assembly is not prepared to take on that role.”

Before this offer from Rollins was made public, Tyson, through her attorneys, insisted that it was the job of the General Assembly to investigate the claims.

Virginia’s code and the rules for the House of Delegates do appear to offer the House the opportunity to launch an investigation into any public official — complete with subpoena power, public hearings and proper punishments — and that investigation may take place without going through the impeachment process.

Should an investigation be launched, Virginia’s law gives the entire General Assembly and its committees broad power to compel witnesses to testify. Two different statutes specifically say the legislature may demand evidence and subpoena witnesses and those asked to participate must do so — or face jail time and fines.

But for the investigation to take place in Virginia, the will of the lawmakers must prevail and at this point both sides seem reluctant.

The office of Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican, would not comment on the possibility of launching an investigation outside the impeachment process. In the past the Cox has said the situation deserves “due process,” but that Fairfax’s ability to serve has been impaired and he should resign.

Democratic Leader Elieen Filler-Corn and her entire caucus have called for Fairfax to resign. Still, they remain leery about the idea of an investigation taking place in the legislature.

“The Speaker and the majority control the rules of the House,” said Kathryn Gilley, the spokesperson for the House Democratic Caucus, “But there is not a precedent for an investigation of this nature.”