The FBI is asking questions about the source of the sexual assault claims against the former Lieutenant Governor of Virginia.


RICHMOND — The FBI has asked about the origins of two sexual assault allegations made 3½ years ago against the then-lieutenant. Governor Justin Fairfax, according to the Democrat and four other people who said they were contacted recently by a Richmond-based FBI agent.

In February 2019, two women publicly claimed that Fairfax had sexually assaulted them several years prior. Fairfax said the encounters were consensual and, since the early days of the scandal, has publicly urged federal and local law enforcement to investigate what it calls a politically motivated “smear” campaign.

So far, there have been no public indications of the matter being investigated by law enforcement. It’s unclear whether the FBI has found evidence of wrongdoing, or what will happen to the agency’s questioning. Dee Rybiski, public affairs specialist for the FBI’s office in Richmond, declined to comment, saying that as a matter of principle the office neither confirms nor denies the existence of ongoing investigations.

Fairfax and Tommy R. Bennett, president of the Danville branch of the NAACP, told the Washington Post that the FBI contacted them separately to ask what they knew about the source of the allegations.

Three other people have also been contacted by the FBI, the three told the Post, speaking on condition of anonymity because they did not want to be publicly linked to the controversy. All three are Democratic activists. One has been a Fairfax supporter, while another campaigned for one of Fairfax’s Democratic rivals. The third said he had never met Fairfax and had been neutral in intraparty contests.

Fairfax, Bennett and two of the others provided the Post with recordings – copies of text messages, emails and, in one case, a voicemail – showing the FBI agent arranging in-person interviews with them, although the subject of the meetings is not specified. One person, who said the FBI interviewed him by phone, did not provide documents.

Why Justin Fairfax keeps speaking out about the sexual assault allegations against him

At the FBI’s invitation, Fairfax said he met with several agents from the Richmond office in early June. He said he showed up without a lawyer and spoke with the officers for nearly three hours, recounting his claims that the allegations were false and designed to cut short his once-promising political career.

“I contacted the FBI from day one,” he said. “It’s the first time they’ve asked to sit down and meet.”

Debra Katz, the attorney for one of the Fairfax accusers, called the FBI activity “frivolous.”

“I don’t know why the FBI would investigate this when there isn’t an iota of evidence that either of the women came forward at someone else’s instigation. and for improper reasons,” said Katz, whose client, Vanessa Tyson, accused Fairfax. of assaulting her at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, an allegation Fairfax denies. “We are baffled by this, particularly in light of the fact that the FBI has not come to inform us that an investigation has been opened or to request evidence from Dr. Tyson.”

Nancy Erika Smith, the attorney for Fairfax’s second accuser, Meredith Watson, did not respond to messages from The Washington Post seeking comment. Watson said Fairfax sexually assaulted her in 2000 when they were undergraduates at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, which Fairfax denied.

“If it’s true that the FBI is investigating two victims of Justin Fairfax, shame on the FBI,” Smith said in a statement to The Intercept, which published an article on the FBI investigations on Monday. “This latest abuse is obviously at the behest of Fairfax and its political benefactors and public relations team.”

The claims surfaced in 2019 as Fairfax appeared poised to assume the then-government executive mansion. Ralph Northam (D), who was under intense pressure to resign after a racist photo surfaced in his 1984 medical school yearbook.

Northam ultimately remained in office and largely recovered from the episode, but the damage to Fairfax was more lasting. Once widely seen as the favorite to succeed Northam, Fairfax finished fourth in his party’s five-gubernatorial primary last year, receiving less than 4% of the vote.

Bennett – who earned just under $24,000 working on Fairfax’s bid for lieutenant governor in 2017, but did no paid work for Fairfax’s failed gubernatorial bid l last year – said he was surprised when a woman identifying herself as an FBI agent phoned in June, asking him to interview him about an undetermined matter.

“When they identified themselves, I was, ‘What is this?’ I know my life and I know that Tommy Bennett had done nothing but beat a little fourth grade boy with my Cinderella lunch box,” he said, referring to how he once reacted to the anti-gay bullying.” She said, ‘I’m from the FBI, but you have no problem. And I was like, ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ ”

A few days later, on June 15, the Richmond-based agent traveled to Danville with an agent from Lynchburg to meet Bennett at a downtown bakery, Ma’s Cakes, according to Bennett, who provided copies of two text messages from the officer in Richmond – one saying they had arrived and the other saying they were seated inside the “cake place”.

At that meeting, Bennett said he finally learned what the FBI was looking for: information about the allegations against Fairfax.

“She said… ‘We’re looking into this and trying to make sure anyone we know can know anything,'” Bennett said. “They didn’t call any names, they just wanted to see if I knew anything about anyone doing anything against Justin.”

Bennett said he told officers he would be willing to discuss the case, but not without an attorney present. He provided a copy of a follow-up message from the agent dated July 6, asking if he had an attorney she could contact to schedule a second meeting.

Bennett said this week that he has yet to schedule that meeting, but remains open to doing so.

Salvador Rizzo contributed to this report.

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