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'This Never Happened,' Biden Says Of 1990s Sexual Assault Allegation

May 1, 2020
Originally published on May 1, 2020 5:00 pm

Updated at 5:59 p.m. ET

Editor's note: This story contains graphic descriptions of an alleged sexual assault.

More than a month after being publicly accused of sexual assault by a former Senate staffer in the 1990s, former Vice President Joe Biden says the allegations "aren't true. This never happened."

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has also called on Senate records to be released of a sexual harassment complaint former Senate staffer Tara Reade says she filed, though she says it did not detail an assault and does not have a copy herself. Biden said he wouldn't call on the University of Delaware to search for Reade's alleged complaint in his official senatorial records, kept at the university under seal, saying those files do not contain personnel records.

Biden released a statement Friday morning shortly before a live television interview with MSNBC. The statement and interview were the candidate's first direct response to the allegations by Reade.

In the statement, Biden seeks to walk the line between respecting and listening to the sexual assault allegations — a hallmark of most Democrats' response to the #MeToo movement — and defending himself.

"While the details of these allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault are complicated, two things are not complicated," Biden said in the statement. "One is that women deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and when they step forward they should be heard, not silenced. The second is that their stories should be subject to appropriate inquiry and scrutiny. Responsible news organizations should examine and evaluate the full and growing record of inconsistencies in her story, which has changed repeatedly in both small and big ways."

"I'm not going to question her motive," Biden said in the interview with MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski. "I'm not going to do that at all. I don't know why she's saying this. I don't know why after 27 years this gets raised."

MSNBC via / YouTube

The alleged assault

Reade says that Biden assaulted her in the spring of 1993, when she worked as a staff assistant in his Senate office. Reade could not remember the exact location or date of the alleged assault but said it happened when a supervisor asked her to deliver a duffel bag to Biden on Capitol Hill.

When she met up with the then-senator in a hallway, Reade told NPR, he pinned her up against a wall and penetrated her vagina with his fingers. "His hands went underneath my clothing and he was touching me in my private areas and without my consent," Reade said.

Reade first made the accusation on a podcast in March, and it has since been reported by several other news outlets, including NPR.

At the time, Reade says she told her brother, her late mother and a friend. Reade's friend told NPR that she heard the same specific details of the alleged assault at the time, but declined to be identified. Her brother, Collin Moulton, told NPR that Reade had said Biden put his hands "under her clothes."

Tara Reade's congressional identification card from the early 1990s. Records show she worked in Joe Biden's Senate office for about nine months.
Courtesy of Tara Reade

Earlier this week, a former neighbor of Reade named Lynda LaCasse told NPR that Reade told her about the alleged assault approximately 25 years ago. "I do remember her telling me that Joe Biden had put her up against a wall and had put his hands up her skirt and had put his fingers inside her," LaCasse told NPR, recalling a conversation she says took place two to three years after the alleged incident.

Reade says she never told anyone in Biden's office about the assault, though she says she did complain about harassment. Multiple people who worked in Biden's office at the time told NPR that they did not remember those complaints and denied Reade's recollections about a hostile office environment.

Records searches

Reade says she also filed a formal written complaint about harassment to a Senate personnel office but did not receive any follow-up. She did not have a copy of the complaint and said she could not recall the name of the office where she had filed paperwork.

In his statement Friday morning, Biden says any record of that complaint would be housed in the National Archives.

"I am requesting that the Secretary of the Senate ask the Archives to identify any record of the complaint she alleges she filed and make available to the press any such document. If there was ever any such complaint, the record will be there," Biden said.

Asked on MSNBC whether Biden would also be willing to ask the Archives to release any complaint about harassment from Reade or any other Senate staffer, Biden indicated he would. "To the best of my knowledge, there have been no complaints against me," Biden said. "There's nothing for me to hide. Nothing at all."

But on Friday, the National Archives said in a statement to NPR, "Any records of Senate personnel complaints from 1993 would have remained under the control of the Senate. Accordingly, inquiries related to these records should be directed to the Senate."

Later on Friday, Biden released a letter to Secretary of the Senate Julie Adams, asking her office to take "whatever steps are necessary to establish the location of the records," adding, "I would ask that the public release include not only a complaint if one exists, but any and all other documents in the records that relate to the allegation."

But pressed repeatedly by host Brzezinski on whether he would also authorize the University of Delaware to search its extensive archives of Biden's Senate papers for any mention of Reade, Biden declined, saying the school's collection does not include personnel files.

"They're not there," Biden said, saying the papers should be kept private until after he's no longer seeking or in public office, as they could reveal "confidential conversations," including with heads of state.

The agreement with the university has been that the records would be made public two years after Biden retires from office. That sort of delayed release is standard protocol for records of public officeholders.

"I'm accountable to the American people"

Reade's story has evolved from last year, when she came forward to accuse Biden of inappropriate touching, joining other women coming forward with such complaints as Biden prepared to launch his campaign. Several of them, though, said the behavior was not sexual in nature. Reade's allegation is the first public allegation of sexual assault made against Biden.

While the Biden campaign had unequivocally denied Reade's allegation through a statement from deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield, Biden himself had not addressed it until now, more than a month after Reade first made the allegation in a public forum.

"As a Presidential candidate, I'm accountable to the American people. We have lived long enough with a President who doesn't think he is accountable to anyone, and takes responsibility for nothing. That's not me. I believe being accountable means having the difficult conversations, even when they are uncomfortable. People need to hear the truth," Biden said in his statement.

In the weeks before he addressed the charge himself, several prominent Democrats had to walk a fine line of defending Biden, while also addressing the rallying cry of the #MeToo Movement to "believe women" who come forward with serious allegations against prominent men.

"Here's the thing: I have complete respect for the whole #MeToo Movement. I have four daughters, one son, and there is a lot of excitement around the idea that women will be heard and be listened to," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday when asked about the allegation. "There is also due process. And the fact that Joe Biden is Joe Biden – there have been statements from his campaign, or not his campaign but his former employees who ran his offices and the rest, that there was never any record of this. There was never any record and that nobody ever came forward, or that nobody ever came forward to say something about it apart from the principal involved."

President Trump, who has been accused by numerous women of various instances of sexual assault and harassment, weighed in on the allegation for the first time on Thursday. "I think he should respond. It could be false accusations. I know all about false accusations, I've been falsely charged numerous times," Trump told reporters at the White House.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This morning, the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden responded directly to an accusation of sexual assault made by Tara Reade. She worked as a junior staffer in Biden's Senate office in 1993, when she says the assault occurred. Biden spoke with MSNBC.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")

JOE BIDEN: I'm saying unequivocally, it never, never happened.

MARTIN: We should mention we're about to talk about an allegation that will be disturbing to a lot of listeners. NPR's Asma Khalid has been reporting on the story and joins us now. Asma, let's begin with what Tara Reade has accused Joe Biden of. You have talked with her multiple times. What does she say?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Well, she says at some point in the spring of 1993, she delivered a duffel bag to Biden in a hallway on Capitol Hill. This is what Reade told me happened when she then met up with Biden.

TARA READE: He put me up against the wall, and his hands went underneath my clothing. And he was touching me in my private areas and without my consent.

KHALID: Reade said Biden penetrated her vagina with his fingers. She could not recall the exact date or location of the incident. And Rachel, she told me that she filed a complaint with a Senate office, not about the alleged assault but about harassment. She could not recall, though, where she filed that complaint, and she doesn't have a copy of it.

MARTIN: But there could potentially be a record of her complaint somewhere. I mean, what did Joe Biden say about that this morning?

KHALID: Well, there have been a lot of questions about the private records from Joe Biden's office because they're under seal at the University of Delaware until he leaves public life. That's a deadline that's been extended because he decided to run for president. What Biden has said, though, about those records is that they do not contain personnel files. He said any record of a Senate complaint like what Reade is describing would only exist at the National Archives. So he's called on the secretary of Senate to identify any record and release it to the press if such a record exists. He was asked in this morning's interview if he's prepared to release the information not just about Reade's complaint but about any complaint if, you know, any others exist. And he said he's prepared to do that because no complaints ever occurred.

MARTIN: So this has proven to be rather uncomfortable for a number of Democrats who have maintained, as part of the #MeToo movement, that - this idea that all women should be believed in these cases. But now that the presumptive nominee for their party is facing an allegation, this idea has become less absolute.

KHALID: That's right. You know, and Republicans have been accusing Democrats of hypocrisy, specifically pointing to the fact that they believed Christine Blasey Ford's allegation against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. So why are they not believing, they say, Tara Reade. Biden was asked about this on "Morning Joe" today by Mika Brzezinski.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: You said if someone like Dr. Ford were to come out, the essence of what she is saying has to be believed, has to be real. Why...

BIDEN: I know what I said. It has to be...

BRZEZINSKI: Why is it real for Dr. Ford but not for Tara Reade?

BIDEN: There - because the facts are - look, I'm not suggesting she had no right to come forward. And I never - and I'm not saying - any woman, they should come forward. They should be heard, and then it should be investigated.

KHALID: And Biden reiterated that this claim is not true and that truth matters and that he's worked his entire life, he says, to change the laws and culture to help victims of sexual assault.

MARTIN: I can't imagine, in this political climate, that this is the end of it. What is the next step in all this?

KHALID: Yeah, definitely not. I mean, Tara Reade has not done any TV interviews so far, but she's expected to do one in the coming days. You know, Republicans have been amplifying this story. They're pressuring Democrats to respond. But look, Rachel - I mean, this is a tough moral battle for Republicans to wage without themselves appearing hypocritical because while they point at Biden for this allegation, more than a dozen women have publicly accused Trump of various incidents of sexual assault, all of which he denies.

You know, as for Democrats, they've been standing by Biden, coming out to publicly endorse him even after this allegation was reported. But some women's rights activists had been calling on Biden to respond directly to the allegation. Now that he has, we'll have to see if they're satisfied with how he's addressed it.

MARTIN: Thank you. NPR's Asma Khalid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.