New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, now a Democratic presidential candidate, on Wednesday called the accusations of sexual assault made by Scripps College professor Vanessa Tyson against Virginia Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax “deeply, deeply disturbing.”
“I have not read the allegations but it takes tremendous courage for someone to come forward in the way that she did,” Booker told CNN’s Manu Raju on Wednesday. ”This is a deeply disturbing allegation that should be thoroughly investigated.”
Tyson came forward to accuse Fairfax of forcing himself on her during a July 2004 encounter at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. “What began as consensual kissing quickly turned into a sexual assault,” Tyson, who previously taught at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., wrote in a statement. “After the assault, I suffered from both deep humiliation and shame. I did not speak about it for years.”
Fairfax has repeatedly denied Tyson’s allegations, claiming the encounter was consensual and accusing Tyson of engaging in a “smear campaign.” He also reportedly used profane language in a private meeting when referring to Tyson.
Despite Booker’s comments, he was blasted by Fox News primetime hosts Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson. Both incorrectly told their millions of viewers that Booker had remained silent on the issue, suggesting the decision was based on the fact that Fairfax was a Democrat.
“Where’s Kamala Harris tonight? Where is ‘Spartacus’ Cory Booker? Where is Elizabeth Warren?” Hannity asked. “Do they believe this accuser? Do they stand with all survivors of sexual abuse or only when it’s made against a Republican or a conservative? Is it just about politics, not about the cause?”
Hannity issued an “update” at the end of his show to note that Booker had in fact spoken up about the allegations, but continued to mock Booker as “Spartacus," a nickname he earned after announcing he released confidential documents during hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Hannity echoed comments made by Carlson an hour earlier, who suggested Booker’s silence was also due to “race politics” because Fairfax is also black.
“Booker’s got better things to focus on than some girl in California who’s alleging sexual assault against one of his partymates. The Cory Booker of just a few months ago would be disgusted by the Cory Booker you just saw,” Carlson said. “Back then sexual politics seemed more important than race politics. And now, it’s the other way around.”
Unlike Hannity, Carlson did not later correct his report. Neither Harris nor Warren — also 2020 Democratic presidential candidates — have spoken publicly about the sexual assault allegations made against Fairfax, and neither immediately responded to a request for comment.
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who is also making a bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said it was important for Democrats to address the issue, regardless of the political affiliation of the individuals involved.
“I read through Dr. Tyson’s statement, and I’m inclined to believe her statement. I believe it’s credible,” Castro said on MSNBC’s All In Wednesday night. “If we don’t take these claims seriously, then we’re going back to a time when in every workplace in America, they can be dismissed. We cannot go back to that place.”
The allegations against Fairfax come as Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, faces calls from both parties to resign over the controversy surrounding a photo of a man wearing blackface in his medical school yearbook. Northam denied wearing blackface in the yearbook photo, but he did admit to darkening his face with shoe polish to play Michael Jackson during a dance contest in 1984.