House Republicans want hearing on sexual assault allegations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax during special session

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax talks to reporters in the Capitol last week after sexual assault allegations were made against him. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

House Republicans are again asking Democrats to allow two women who said Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax sexually assaulted them to testify in front of the General Assembly during a special session beginning July 9.

Gov. Ralph Northam called lawmakers back to Richmond in the wake of a mass shooting in Virginia Beach that left 13 dead, including the gunman, and injured four more. Northam is pushing a package of legislation to curb gun violence.

In a letter to Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, who chairs the House Courts of Justice Committee, said the special session is a “good opportunity for this hearing to take place, or at least be arranged and scheduled for later in the summer.”

Two women accused Fairfax of sexual assault in February, which prompted calls for his resignation. He still denies the allegations and has asked prosecutors in Massachusetts and North Carolina to investigate the claims.

State Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Bell called Fairfax’s push for investigations a “stunt.”

“If Lt. Gov. Fairfax wished to be investigated, he could simply present himself to Suffolk County (Massachusetts) officers for a recorded interview,” Bell wrote. “Alternately, he could agree to a hearing before the General Assembly.”

In response to the allegations, House Republicans said in February they planned to invite both women to the statehouse to testify. One of the women said she would only participate if it was a bipartisan process.

But Democrats cast doubt on the legislature’s authority to hold such a hearing and had concerns that it would become “political, partisan circus.”

“As you know, both women have stated that they will only participate in legislative hearings if the hearings are public and both Republicans and Democrats participate,” Bell wrote to Filler-Corn.

“I wish to renew my offer for truly bipartisan hearings. The ranking Democrat on the Courts of Justice committee would serve as co-chair on any subcommittee that would be formed and the partisan make up would be exactly even. This means that no decision on subpoenas, procedural issues or scope of testimony would be made without bipartisan support.”

Filler-Corn wasn’t interested in Bell’s proposal, according to a letter she sent to him on Tuesday.

“We will not participate in House Republicans’ political games, nor will we turn such serious allegations into a partisan sideshow,” she wrote.

“Since February, House Democrats have made multiple attempts to negotiate with House Republicans in a good faith, bipartisan effort. Each time, House Republicans have manipulated the situation into a political show, choosing to respond in press conferences and media statements rather than directly to us,” Filler-Corn wrote.

She said Republicans have no responded to a March 31 letter that laid out some of the caucus’ concerns, including that such a hearing appears to have never been held by the House of Delegates and lawmakers may not be trained in conducting hearings related to criminal allegations.

In March, Filler-Corn said Democrats were “open to discussing the option of engaging an independent, third party entity to conduct a hearing while taking into consideration fairness and due process for all involved in a non-political, professional and safe environment in a manner that would not impede or compromise any possible ongoing investigation.”

UPDATE: A Fairfax spokeswoman told the Times-Dispatch that a “Republican show trial during an election year is not an investigation that will reveal the truth,” calling the request an attempt to avoid the debate on gun control Gov. Ralph Northam has requested for the session.