2020 Democrats respond to sexual assault claim against Virginia's Justin Fairfax

Democratic presidential contenders are publicly commenting on an accusation of sexual assault against Virginia's lieutenant governor, describing the allegations as credible and calling for an investigation but stopping short of demanding a resignation.

The accusation against Justin Fairfax resurfaced over the weekend after Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam faced calls for resignation following the discovery of a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page. Vanessa Tyson, a professor at Scripps College, publicly identified herself as Fairfax's accuser on Wednesday and released a lengthy statement detailing her version of events.

Tyson said Fairfax forced her to perform nonconsensual oral sex at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Fairfax has repeatedly denied the allegations, including in a statement issued after Tyson spoke out Wednesday, and has described their interaction as consensual.

Democrats had been mostly mum about the allegations, drawing cries of hypocrisy from Republicans who pointed to their support of Christine Blasey Ford after her allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. But the party's presidential candidates began addressing the incident after Tyson released her statement.

Vanessa Tyson, accuser of Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax
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Vanessa Tyson, accuser of Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax
In this undated photo provided by Scripps College, Vanessa Tyson, an associate professor in politics at Scripps College, poses for a photo. Tyson, a 42-year-old political science professor who studies the intersection of politics and the #MeToo movement, went public with her sexual assault accusation against Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, saying in a statement that she repressed the memory for years but came forward in part because of the possibility that Fairfax could succeed a scandal-mired governor. (Scripps College via AP)

Sen. Kamala Harris of California told reporters Thursday that Tyson's statement "reads as a credible account" and called for an investigation into the incident.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, another 2020 candidate, told CNN the allegation was "deeply, deeply disturbing" and praised Tyson for coming forward. He, too called for an investigation.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York praised Tyson's courage Wednesday night on podcast "Lovett or Leave It," saying that her account is credible and disturbing and warrants investigation. She repeated her comments on Twitter Thursday, adding, "Institutions – colleges, the military, the NFL – don't believe survivors, and shame or retaliate against survivors, to protect their own. We have to support survivors and take allegations seriously or there will never be justice."

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, told MSNBC the allegations were disturbing and "deserve to be fully investigated."

Julian Castro, former Housing and Urban Development secretary, added an important distinction in his comments from The Washington Post, separating himself from his rivals for the nomination by asserting that he thinks Tyson is telling the truth.

"I believe her claim," Castro said. "I know that Lt. Gov. Fairfax has denied it. My hope is that there's some process to get to the bottom of that."

Copyright 2019 U.S. News & World Report

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