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Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax calls for criminal investigation into sexual assault allegations against him

Justin Fairfax denies sexual assault claims

A lawyer for Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is calling on prosecutors in Massachusetts and North Carolina to open criminal investigations into sexual assault allegations made against Fairfax earlier this year.

Barry J. Pollack, a Washington-based attorney for Fairfax, sent letters Wednesday to prosecutors in Suffolk County, Massachusetts and Durham County, North Carolina, saying that allegations against Fairfax "should be promptly and fully investigated."

Fairfax has strongly denied accusations of sexual assault made earlier this year as Virginia was rocked by a trio of political scandals sparked by the discovery of a racist photo on the medical school yearbook page of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

Vanessa Tyson, who met Fairfax at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, says he assaulted her shortly after they met, while Meredith Watson, a former Duke University classmate, says that Fairfax raped her in 2000. Fairfax denies the accusations.

Both women have called on Virginia legislators to hold public hearings in order to detail their accusations in a bid to force Fairfax from office. But legislators have yet to schedule hearings and neither woman has pursued criminal charges against Fairfax in the states where the alleged incidents occurred.

In the letters obtained by CBS News, Pollack writes, "If an investigation were to determine that the allegation is true, it should be criminally prosecuted. Conversely, if an investigation were to determine that the allegation is false, which Lt. Governor Fairfax is confident would be the conclusion, of any unbiased and professional investigation, the matter should be closed and the public informed."

Pollack says in his letter to Satana Deberry, the district attorney for Durham County, N.C., that he has tried unsuccessfully "on a number of occasions" in the past two months to make contact with her office. A letter to Ian Polumbaum, an assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, Mass., suggests Pollack has spoken directly with his office.

Neither office could be immediately reached for comment late Wednesday. Neither jurisdiction has said in the last several months that it is conducting a criminal investigation.

In his letters, Pollack notes that Tyson and Watson discussed their accusations with Gayle King on "CBS This Morning" in April, appearances that he described as "obviously timed to attempt to influence a special sessions of the Virginia General Assembly" when both women were pushing for public hearings. Pollack writes that Watson appeared on CBS despite a "claim that she was reluctantly coming forward and had no interest in being a media personality."

In the CBS interview, Tyson said she went public in February only after a racist photo was found on Northam's yearbook page. She feared that if Northam resigned, Fairfax would automatically become governor.

"The voters of Virginia have a right to know," Tyson said.

Watson repeated to King her accusations that Fairfax raped her 19 years ago when they were students at Duke University.

"Had I had the strength or courage to say something in 2000, maybe it never would have happened to her," Watson said.

Attorneys for Tyson have since called Fairfax's latest move "another political stunt" that shows his "lack of respect for survivors of sexual violence" in a statement released on Thursday. 

"As a former prosecutor, the Lieutenant Governor certainly knows that potential targets of criminal investigations do not get to direct prosecutorial decisions," Attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks said.  "Despite his protestations about the unfairness of litigating such serious allegations in the press, his letter's distorted presentation of facts is intended to do just that."

Attorneys for Watson responded in the same vein.  

"If Justin Fairfax wanted the public to know the truth, he would have welcomed the hearing in the Virginia legislature requested by Ms. Tyson & Ms. Watson," Nancy Erika Smith said in a statement. 

Fairfax vehemently denied the accusations in the wake of the interviews and redoubled his calls for law enforcement investigations. But Watson told King she fears that criminal investigations would allow the issue to be swept under the rug.

"You have someone in a position of leadership who has the ability to affect legislation on how these issues will be handled. And he, himself, is a predator," Watson said.

Pollack's letters also contain copies of the results of a polygraph test Fairfax took in March to answer questions about the allegations against him.

As the next in line of succession, Fairfax appeared poised in February to assume the governorship from Northam, who was facing calls to resign after apologizing for appearing in the yearbook photo and later withdrawing his apology. But within days, the accusations against Fairfax surfaced, easing pressure on Northam, who is still in office. Fairfax remains in his job, as does Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who also admitted in February to posing in a racially insensitive photo while in college.

The three men have maintained lower public profiles in the months since, but appeared together last week to call for a special session of the Virginia General Assembly next month to consider legislation to curb gun rights in the commonwealth.

Northam is term-limited and Fairfax and Herring were known to be preparing for potential 2021 gubernatorial bids – but those plans are in flux. Seeking to buoy his party, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who had openly flirted with a presidential campaign, is now instead preparing for another gubernatorial run in 2021. Virginia law permits a governor to serve just one consecutive term, but doesn't bar a former governor from running again.

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