Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has responded for the first time to a former Senate aide’s accusation of sexual assault, saying in a Friday morning statement that Tara Reade’s accounts “aren’t true” and “never happened.”
Biden also called on the National Archives to release any records that might exist of the complaint Reade said she filed against him in 1993.
“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,” the former vice president said in the statement, which arrived about a half-hour before he was set to do his first interview on the subject with MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “If there was ever any such complaint, the record will be there.”
Biden reasserted his denial at the top of his interview with Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC.
Reade has accused Biden of sexually assaulting her in 1993, when she worked for him in the Senate. Reade first publicly detailed the allegation earlier this year, after being one of several women in early 2019 to say Biden’s behavior had made them feel uncomfortable.
“This never ever happened,” Biden said toward the end of prolonged and intense questioning by Brzezinski, who asked what he would say to Reade if he had the opportunity to speak with her. “I don’t know what is motivating her. I don’t know what’s behind any of it. But it’s irrelevant. It never happened.”
“She has a right to say whatever she wants to say,” Biden said of Reade at another point in the interview. “But I have a right to say look at the facts. Check it out.”
Reade, who said she initially backed Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the primary before supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders, told BuzzFeed News in multiple interviews this month that she has been frustrated by the fact that, up until now, Biden had not addressed her accusation himself. When asked about it, Biden’s campaign has primarily pointed reporters to a statement dated April 13, saying that though the former vice president believes women have the right to be heard, Reade’s story did not happen.
Biden echoed that Friday in his statement, which began with a lengthy acknowledgment that April, which ended Thursday, was Sexual Assault Awareness Month and a recap of his work as a senator to pass the Violence Against Women Act.
“I recognize my responsibility to be a voice, an advocate, and a leader for the change in culture that has begun but is nowhere near finished,” Biden said. “So I want to address allegations by a former staffer that I engaged in misconduct 27 years ago.”
“They aren’t true,” Biden added. “This never happened.”
Brzezinski pressed Biden repeatedly on his past statements that women who come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault should be given the benefit of the doubt — including comments Biden made during the 2018 confirmation hearings of US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Democrats at the time were unhappy with how Senate Republicans treated Christine Blasey Ford, who had accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were in high school.
“Are women to be believed unless it pertains to you?” Brzezinski asked at one point.
Biden began his reply with exasperation. “Look,” he said, “women are to be believed, given the benefit of the doubt if they come forward and say something that they said happened to them. They should start out with the presumption of truth.”
But then, Biden added, people should look at the facts in each case. “I assure you,” he said, referring to Reade’s accusation against him, “it did not happen. Period. Period.”
Over the last several weeks, and across several news outlets, several people who knew Reade at the time have said they had been told different aspects of her story. A former neighbor, Lynda LaCasse, told Business Insider that Reade had detailed her full allegation of sexual assault in the 1990s. Both the New York Times and Washington Post reported they spoke with an unnamed friend who said Reade had detailed the allegation at that time. The Intercept published a transcript of what Reade said was her mother calling in to Larry King Live in 1993 to ask for advice about a generally negative experience her daughter had had with a “prominent senator.”
Biden is the last Democrat actively campaigning for his party’s nomination to face President Donald Trump in this fall’s general election. Trump has been accused of more than a dozen instances of sexual harassment or assault.
Biden’s campaign previously had sent talking points to Democrats in April that leaned on a New York Times report to insist that Reade’s claim is false, even though the Times report did not make that determination.
Reade has said that soon after the incident, she filed a report in the Senate and complained directly to three former Senate aides, all of whom say they do not remember that happening. One of those aides, Biden’s former executive assistant Marianne Baker, said in a statement provided by the campaign this week that she never once witnessed or heard of “any reports of inappropriate conduct, period — not from Ms. Reade, not from anyone.”
Biden emphasized in his Friday statement that none of his other past aides have corroborated Reade’s accounts.
“She has said she raised some of these issues with her supervisor and senior staffers from my office at the time,” Biden said. “They — both men and a woman — have said, unequivocally, that she never came to them and complained or raised issues. News organizations that have talked with literally dozens of former staffers have not found one — not one — who corroborated her allegations in any way. Indeed, many of them spoke to the culture of an office that would not have tolerated harassment in any way — as indeed I would not have.”
On MSNBC, Brzezinski also asked if Biden ever asked past employees to sign nondisclosure agreements that might prevent others from coming forward with accusations.
“There’s no NDA signed,” Biden said. “No one’s ever signed. I’ve never asked anyone to sign an NDA. There are no NDAs, period, in my case. None.”
One particularly extended line of questioning from Brzezinski focused on the delay in making public Biden’s Senate papers, which he donated to the University of Delaware. Biden said any personnel records related to Reade would be at the National Archives, not at Delaware, but Brzezinski wondered why Biden wouldn’t commit to more transparency. Someone, perhaps a third party, could search for documents that might include Reade’s name, Brzezinski suggested. Biden seemed skeptical about how that process would work.
“The fact is that there are a lot of things of speeches I've made, positions I've taken, interviews that I did overseas with people, all of those things related to my job,” Biden said in explaining his refusal to release the Senate papers now. “And the idea that they would be made public while I was running for public office, they could be really taken out of context. The papers are position papers. They are documents that existed when I, for example, when I met with Putin, or when I met with whoever. And all of that to be fodder in a campaign at this time, I don't know of anybody whose done anything like that.”
Andrea Boyle Tippett, a spokesperson for the University of Delaware, said in a Thursday email to BuzzFeed News that staff there is “currently curating the collection, a process that we estimate will carry at least into the spring of 2021.”
“As the curating process is not complete,” she added, “the papers are not yet available to the public, and we are not able to identify what documents or files can be found within the collection.”
Asked if the university would make the files available for public inspection if Biden requested that, she replied: “I won't speculate about a hypothetical situation.”
Brzezinski asked Biden if he was sure a National Archives search would turn up no complaint from Reade.
“I’m confident there’s nothing,” he replied. “No one ever brought it to the attention of me.”