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The Virginia mess

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This is getting really ugly:

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax issued a statement early Monday denying a sexual assault allegation that appeared on the same conservative website that posted a racist photograph from Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page.

“Lt. Governor Fairfax has an outstanding and well-earned reputation for treating people with dignity and respect,” read the statement from his chief of staff and communications director. “He has never assaulted anyone — ever — in any way, shape or form.”

The statement came after the online publication, Big League Politics, ran a story under the headline: “UPDATE: Stanford Fellow Hints At Possible Justin Fairfax Sex Assault.”

The story was based on a private Facebook post from the woman, which the publication said it had obtained from a friend of hers who had permission to share it.

In their response, Fairfax’s staff members, pointed out that the woman first approached The Washington Post with the allegation shortly before he was inaugurated and The Post “carefully investigated the claim for several months.”

The woman approached The Post after Fairfax won election in November 2017 and before he was inaugurated in January 2018, saying she felt like she had an obligation to speak out.

The woman and Fairfax first met in Boston at the 2004 Democratic national convention.

During a conversation, the two realized they had a mutual friend. It was that commonality, she recalled, that put her at ease enough that on the afternoon Fairfax asked her to walk with him to his hotel room to pick up some papers, she thought nothing of joining him.

Fairfax and the woman told different versions of what happened in the hotel room with no one else present. The Washington Post could not find anyone who could corroborate either version. The Post did not find “significant red flags and inconsistencies within the allegations,” as the Fairfax statement incorrectly said.

Fairfax (D), who was not married at the time, has denied her account through his attorneys and described the encounter as consensual.

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 Washington 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 Washington Post did not run a story.

She said she never told anyone about what happened at the time or in the years that followed until shortly before she approached The Post.

The Post reached out to the woman again Monday and she has not returned messages. The Post generally does not name alleged victims of sexual assault without their explicit permission.

One person who knew both the woman and Fairfax and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the nature of the allegations, said he felt torn when he first heard the accusations. He spoke highly of both.

“It doesn’t sound like anything he would do,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like anything she would lie about.”

Now according to the NYT Fairfax is accusing Ralph Northam’s supporters of using this story to block Fairfax’s ascension to the governorship: (ETA: It’s certainly not clear from Fairfax’s quote that he’s accusing Northam’s people.  Jonathan Martin, the Times reporter, should be pressed on this point. ETA further: On Twitter, Martin says the quote from Fairfax is in response to being asked if he believed Northam’s people were behind the story coming out now.  ETA yet again: The whole quoted exchange is actually ambiguous in regard to whether Fairfax is actually accusing Northam’s camp. See Bianca Steele’s comment in the thread).

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of Virginia on Monday emphatically denied a woman’s claim that he sexually assaulted her in 2004, suggesting that Gov. Ralph Northam’s supporters were trying to block his ascent to the governorship at a moment Mr. Northam is besieged by demands that he resign over charges of racism.

“Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of potentially my being elevated that that’s when this uncorroborated smear comes out?” Mr. Fairfax told reporters surrounding him in the rotunda of the state capitol about whether he believes Mr. Northam, a fellow Democrat, was behind the accusation coming to light. He offered no evidence tying the Northam camp to the allegation.

Just hours after the Washington Post published a story Monday outlining the woman’s allegation — that Mr. Fairfax assaulted her soon after they met in Boston at the Democratic National Convention — the lieutenant governor said that he and the woman had what he called “a 100 percent consensual” sexual encounter.

“We hit it off, she was very interested in me and so eventually, at one point, we ended up going to my hotel room,” said Mr. Fairfax, 39, recounting in a measured voice what he said happened in 2004.

Mr. Fairfax asserted that the woman subsequently called him and said she wanted him to meet her mother. He said he had no documentary evidence of any further conversations after their sexual encounter in 2004, when he was working as the personal aide to then-North Carolina Senator John Edwards, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate that year. Asked if he had seen her since the time in his hotel room, he said: “I don’t believe so.” The Times has reached out to intermediaries for the woman who has made the allegation, but they did not immediately comment on Monday.

An adviser to Mr. Northam, asked Monday if the embattled governor was behind the alleged assault revelations, denied any responsibility and said the Northam camp did not have the capacity to plot such a move at a moment he is struggling to retain his job.

The accusations against Mr. Fairfax threw Virginia’s government into a deeper state of chaos three days after an image surfaced from Mr. Northam’s medical school yearbook page showing a man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe. The governor, after initially acknowledging he was one of the men in the 1984 photo, is now denying he was and refusing insistent calls from state and national Democrats that he resign.

Even though Mr. Northam admitted Saturday at his own news conference to once darkening his face with shoe polish for a Michael Jackson costume at a dance party, his advisers said Monday that he would not step down, and his chief of staff told other aides at a staff meeting that they owed it to Mr. Northam to remain with him for now, according to a Democrat briefed on the conversation.

For his part, Mr. Fairfax noted that he is in “a unique position” and wanted to remain “circumspect” about whether he thinks the governor should quit.

Although I realize this violates the Interstate Blogging Compact, I’d rather hear your off the cuff opinions about this mess rather than mine.

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