Justin Fairfax accuser told congressman about alleged assault over a year ago

By Emily Tillett

/ CBS News

Va. reeling amid scandals for top 3 officials

As Virginia continues to grapple with a multiple scandals rocking the top politicians in the state's government, Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax is vehemently denying details of a sexual assault allegation. His accuser, Dr. Vanessa Tyson, alleges that Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. She revealed her recollection of the encounter Wednesday, on the same day that the state's attorney general, Mark Herring, admitted to wearing blackface as a college student.

This was Tyson's first public statement about the incident, but according to a source close to Tyson's legal team, the professor had alerted Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott about the alleged assault over a year ago. An aide to Congressman Scott confirmed to CBS News that Tyson first approached him about the alleged encounter while the Washington Post was investigating her claims last year.

Tyson said in a statement released Wednesday that she also told close friends of hers in Virginia of the assault during Fairfax's campaign for lieutenant governor in 2017. She explained that she had later told a wider circle of confidants about the assault in the wake of the growing #MeToo movement, including a Washington Post reporter. The Post said it did not run a story at the time because it "could not corroborate Tyson's account or find similar complaints of sexual misconduct."

According to Scott's aide, Tyson did not share personal details of the encounter; Scott was only aware of "limited" information about the alleged assault and only learned the full scope of the allegation this week, the aide said.

Tyson, an associate professor of political science at Scripps College in Claremont, California, said in her statement that the news that Fairfax might succeed Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam due to a scandal over Northam's racist yearbook photo had "flooded me with painful memories, bringing back feelings of grief, shame, and anger."

"I cannot believe, given my obvious distress, that Mr. Fairfax thought this forced sexual act was consensual. To be very clear, I did not want to engage in oral sex with Mr. Fairfax and I never gave any form of consent," Tyson said.

Fairfax has repeatedly disputed Tyson's account, saying while "no one makes charges of this kind lightly … I cannot agree with a description of events that I know is not true … reading Dr. Tyson's account is painful. I have never done anything like what she suggests."

Fairfax's political future is still unclear as all three men consider their next steps amid the controversy. As calls continue for Northam to step down, Northam and Fairfax spoke Wednesday morning by telephone in a "very affable" conversation, according to an aide familiar with their chat.

Virginia's line of succession states that if Northam steps down, Fairfax would take over; then Herring. Next in line is Republican Kirk Cox, speaker of the Virginia statehouse, where the GOP has a one-seat majority.

Adam Verdugo, Ed O'Keefe and Grace Segers contributed to this report

First published on February 7, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Emily Tillett

Emily Tillett is a politics reporter and video editor for CBS News Digital

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