FAIRFAX

A second woman has come forward with accusations against Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.

WASHINGTON — Virginia Democratic lawmakers on Sunday began circulating a draft resolution to begin impeachment proceedings against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax over the allegations of sexual assault that have been leveled against him by two women.

Fairfax, a Democrat, has fended off calls from the state Democratic Party and legislators to resign after the women publicly came forward last week to accuse him of sexual assault. Fairfax says the encounters — one in 2000 and the other in 2004 — were consensual, and he has characterized the allegations as a smear campaign against him.

He has said that he will not step down and wants the FBI or others to investigate the allegations.

Shortly after the second woman came forward Friday, Delagate Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, said he would introduce articles of impeachment if Fairfax did not resign by Monday.

Hope emailed a draft of a resolution that would initiate impeachment proceedings to his Democratic colleagues for review Sunday afternoon. The Washington Post obtained a copy of the email and resolution.

“Whereas the House of Delegates believes all allegations of sexual assault must be taken with the utmost seriousness; and whereas the House of Delegates believes the allegations made by Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Ms. Meredith Watson (Fairfax’s accusers) to be credible in nature, while also respecting the principles of due process; now, therefore, be it resolved by the House of Delegates that proceedings for the impeachment of Lieutenant Governor Justin E. Fairfax shall be initiated,” the draft resolution says.

A vote on the resolution, which could come as early as Tuesday if it is introduced Monday, would direct the House Committee for Courts of Justice to hold hearings on the allegations against Fairfax, with the support of legislative staff and state agencies. Such an investigation would be the precursor to the committee’s recommendation for impeachment and a vote of the full House.

In his email to colleagues, Hope stressed that he is not yet calling for Fairfax’s impeachment, but for an investigation into the allegations.

“It is not impeachment,” Hope emphasized in the email. “It is a process to investigate whether the Courts Committee would recommend impeachment.”

Hope said the timing of introducing the resolution is under discussion with legislative leaders.

It’s unclear how much support there is for an impeachment effort in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. Aides to House Speaker Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights, and House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax County, who have both urged Fairfax to resign, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Del. Robert Bell, R-Albemarle, who chairs the Courts Committee, also did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Committee member Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, said there are serious questions about the House’s ability to conduct an investigation into the allegations, including whether it could compel witnesses to testify and subpoena documents.

“There are process questions,” Simon said. “Whether this the right move or not politically, we have to figure out whether we are doing this right or not.”

Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, who leads the Senate Democratic Caucus, said he opposes attempts to impeach the lieutenant governor and did not expect them to gain traction.

“Impeachment implies high crimes and misdemeanors while you are in office; that’s what it’s for,” Saslaw said in a brief interview, noting that the allegations against Fairfax are for actions that allegedly occurred before he was elected.

Senate Republican leadership previously called on law enforcement to investigate the allegations against Fairfax; a spokesman for Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, did not immediately return a request for comment on impeachment. Norment was the center of controversy himself last week, when he acknowledged that he was an editor of a 1968 yearbook that featured racial slurs and photos of students in blackface. He said he was not responsible for the content.

The Virginia Constitution says “malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty, or other high crime or misdemeanor” are impeachable offenses. It vests the House of Delegates with the power to impeach with a simple majority vote and the state Senate with the power to prosecute elected officials and remove them from office with a vote of two-thirds of the senators present.

Dick Howard, the University of Virginia Law School professor who led the commission that wrote the current version of the state constitution in 1971, said there is disagreement about whether conduct unrelated to an elected office can be grounds for impeachment.

“There are competing interpretations, but I really don’t think it’s open-ended, and I think it’s difficult to argue anything that casts disrepute on the office would be an impeachable offense,” Howard said Sunday. “That would make the impeachment process another tool of political combat.”

An attempt to impeach Fairfax would be unprecedented; there has been no attempt to impeach an elected official in the state in modern times, according to Howard.

Tyson and Watson, who have separate legal representation, have indicated through their lawyers that they are willing to testify during impeachment proceedings.

Tyson, a California professor, says Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him after they met at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Watson, who lives in Maryland, says Fairfax sexually assaulted her when they were both undergraduate students at Duke University. Neither reported the alleged assaults to law enforcement.

Some high-profile Democrats, including Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., stopped short of an outright call for resignation, but they say Fairfax should step down if the allegations are proved true.

Northam and Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring are embroiled in separate controversies after they have admitted to wearing blackface in the 1980s, but neither faces threats of impeachment. That has created another uncomfortable dynamic for Democrats as they ponder whether to force out Fairfax, a black rising star in their party, while white men accused of racism stay in office.

As the part-time lieutenant governor, Fairfax presides over the state Senate during the legislative session and can cast tie-breaking votes.