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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Senate investigation of Fain rape allegation canceled

In this Jan. 27, 2017 photo, Senate Republican floor leader Joe Fain, R-Auburn, sits at his desk on the Senate floor in Olympia, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – The planned investigation of a West Side legislator, accused of a 2007 rape during his re-election campaign and ultimately defeated in a close race, was dropped Tuesday amid partisan recriminations.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, announced the investigation couldn’t proceed because Republicans had pulled their support for “a fair, unbiased investigation” of allegations against Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn.

The only option, Billig said, was to suspend the process and not hire an investigator.

Billig’s announcement followed a series of broadsides between the caucuses, with Republican Sens. Randi Becker and Ann Rivers issuing statements blasting a continued Senate investigation against someone who would soon be gone from the chamber. Sen. John McCoy, a Democratic leader who noted Fain had requested the investigation and his defeat didn’t end the Senate’s responsibility “to the public, to survivors of assault and to those accused of assault.”

During the campaign, Fain was accused in a social media post of sexual assault by Candace Faber, who alleged he had raped her in a Washington, D.C., hotel room in 2007. Fain, first elected in 2010, denied the incident took place. Faber never filed a police complaint on the alleged assault and said she doesn’t intend to, telling the Seattle Times her decision is partly in response to how few rape cases are prosecuted and she doesn’t believe a conviction by itself would amount to justice.

In early November, the bipartisan committee that oversees Senate operations voted unanimously to authorize an investigation by someone who was supported by both parties. A list of possible investigators was drawn up for the secretary of the Senate to review and submit to the two caucuses.

In the meantime, Fain, who was ahead in the vote count on election night, narrowly lost re-election to Democrat Mona Das. He’ll surrender the seat when she’s sworn in for the 2019 session.

After Fain lost re-election, Republican leaders refused to approve any of the investigators submitted.

Becker, of Eatonville, said continuing the Senate investigation was “absurd” because the allegations didn’t involve legislative activities or occur while Fain was in office.

“If the Senate Democratic Caucus continues to pursue this investigation, it will poison the relationship between our two caucuses, reduce co-operation and make it all the more difficult for the Senate as a whole to do the work we have been elected to do,” Becker wrote in a letter to McCoy. She also questioned Democrats’ motives, contending they had already prejudged the case, were out to destroy Fain’s reputation and wanted to please special interests.

McCoy, of Tulalip, fired back in a letter of his own, saying Fain remains a member of the Senate until Jan. 14, which means the Senate has the authority to judge his qualifications to be in office.

“Yes, we embrace the word ‘survivor’ in referring to Ms. Faber and women like her, women who have the courage to come forward despite knowing they will face the might of institutions not likely to believe them,” McCoy wrote. “Just as Sen. Fain deserves the benefit of the doubt, a fair and thorough investigation and to be treated respectfully throughout the process, so does Ms. Faber.”

Faber criticized Republicans for backing away from their initial support for the investigation and now attacking her.

They called for an investigation not because they wanted to discover the truth but to protect Fain from having to answer any questions about that night, she wrote in a statement to the Seattle Times. “Now, the moment it appears a credible investigation could happen, they are backing away and coming after me personally rather than confronting Fain for his actions.”

Billig said the Senate’s decision to hire an investigator was a sign members were willing to put politics aside and it must still work to provide what he called “a better culture in our legislative community.”

“We must work together to do better on behalf of both survivors and those accused of this behavior,” he said.