Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax filed a $400 million defamation lawsuit against CBS on Thursday, accusing the network of amplifying sexual assault claims that Fairfax says are “false, defamatory and politically-motivated,” NPR reports. The lawsuit centers on “CBS This Morning” interviews with Meredith Watson and Vanessa Tyson, who in February accused Fairfax of separate incidents of sexual assault. Fairfax’s attorneys allege the network didn’t fully vet the accusers’ claims and omitted information that would exonerate him. The suit repeats Fairfax’s claims that the women “unambiguously” expressed consent. The suit also alleges that a CBS lawyer who knew Fairfax from college knew the encounter with Watson was consensual because he was told about it by an eyewitness. CBS News said, “We stand by our reporting and we will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”
Tyson attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks called the lawsuit “yet another desperate stunt by Mr. Fairfax to preserve his political career at the expense of survivors of sexual assault.” Watson says Fairfax raped her in 2000, while they were students at Duke University. Tyson said Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex during an encounter in a Boston hotel room at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The suit seeks damages caused by “the intentional and reckless publishing and propagation by CBS of patently false allegations.” The complaint notes that Fairfax lost his job with a prestigious law firm “at which he would have earned millions of dollars over the years.” University of Richmond law Prof. Carl Tobias said courts have set high bars for defamation cases out of deference to the First Amendment. Fairfax will have to prove CBS acted out of malice. “There are allegations to that effect, but they may be difficult to prove,” Tobias said.