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Joe Biden denies Tara Reade’s sexual assault allegation in TV interview

“It never, never happened.”

Joe Biden denies sexual assault allegations in an interview on Morning Joe on Friday, May 1.
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and ordinary voters on social media have all recently weighed in on Tara Reade’s report that she was sexually assaulted by Joe Biden.

But Biden himself has remained silent, until now. In an interview Friday on Morning Joe, he said that Reade’s account “is not true.”

“I’m saying unequivocally, it never, never happened,” the former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee told Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinski.

Reade says that in 1993, when she worked in Biden’s Senate office, Biden pushed her against a wall and penetrated her with his fingers. She first made the allegation publicly in an interview with podcast host Katie Halper on March 25. On March 27, Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement that the allegation was false, adding, “Women have a right to tell their story, and reporters have an obligation to rigorously vet those claims.”

But in recent days, new details have emerged about the allegation, including the account of Lynda LaCasse, Reade’s former neighbor, who says that in 1995 or 1996, Reade confided to her that Biden had sexually assaulted her. The Intercept also located a tape of a woman who appears to be Reade’s mother, calling CNN’s Larry King Live in 1993 to say that her daughter had experienced “problems” with a prominent senator. In light of these details, a rising chorus of activists and others have called on Biden to speak to the allegation personally.

Biden released a statement on Friday morning ahead of the interview, saying that Reade’s allegations “aren’t true. This never happened.” And on Morning Joe, he reiterated that “these claims are not true.”

Brzezinski also pressed Biden on his past statements about women who come forward to report sexual misconduct — when Christine Blasey Ford reported that then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her, Biden said she “should be given the benefit of the doubt.” Brzezinski wanted to know if the same applied to Reade.

“From the very beginning, I’ve said believing women means taking the woman’s claims seriously,” Biden said. But “in the end, in every case, the truth is what matters.”

Overall, the interview is unlikely to put the matter to rest. Reade has continued to speak publicly about the matter, filing a police report in April and giving multiple interviews. And the issue of sexual assault is likely to come up on the campaign trail, especially since President Trump has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 20 women. An author of the Violence Against Women Act, Biden has presented himself as someone with credibility on the issue. But Reade’s allegation threatens to damage that credibility. And now Democrats, going into what is sure to be a hard-fought election, will have to decide what they believe.

“There’s nothing for me to hide”

Reade first spoke publicly about Biden in April 2019, telling the Union, a California newspaper, that the then-senator had touched her several times in ways that made her feel uncomfortable, and that her duties in his office were reduced after she refused to serve drinks at an event. Then, earlier this year, she told Halper there was more to her story.

Reade says that in 1993, when she was in her 20s and working for Biden, another staffer asked her to bring him a gym bag at the US Capitol.

When she did, she says, he pushed her up against a wall in a secluded area, began kissing her, and reached under her skirt to penetrate her with his fingers. After she pulled away, she says he responded with something along the lines of, “Come on, man, I heard you liked me.” Reade said Biden also said something that sticks with her today: “You’re nothing to me.”

Reade’s allegation initially received little coverage in mainstream media, but as new evidence has emerged, it has received more attention. And Biden has been under increased pressure to speak to the issue.

On Friday, he responded by denying the allegation forcefully, both in his statement, posted on Medium, and on Morning Joe. He also called for a search of the National Archives to see if there is any record of a complaint filed by Reade during her time working for him.

“This is an open book,” he told Brzezinski. “There’s nothing for me to hide.”

Brzezinski pressed Biden about transparency, asking him why this search should be limited to complaints made just by Reade, rather than opening it up to any that have been made during his Senate career, to which he said “to the best of my knowledge there’ve been no complaints.” She also asked if any of his staffers had been required to sign nondisclosure agreements about their time working for him. “There are no NDAs,” he said.

She then asked him whether such a complaint might be located in his papers held at the University of Delaware, which were recently sealed until after he leaves public life. Reade has said she believes her complaint is held there, along with other documents pertaining to her allegations.

Why not permit a search of those papers for anything pertaining to Reade, Brzezinski asked. Biden said it was not clear who would perform such a search, and argued that a complaint filed by Reade wouldn’t be there, in any case.

“If that document existed, it would be in the National Archives,” he said.

Much of the interview also focused on the question of how women should be treated when they come forward to report assault. It’s a question that has dogged Biden in the past — he has been criticized for his handling of Anita Hill’s testimony in Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings, including by Hill herself.

And when Ford came forward to say that Kavanaugh had assaulted her when the two were in high school, he said she “deserves to be treated with dignity. It takes enormous courage for a woman to come forward, under the bright lights of millions of people watching, and relive something that happened to her, assert that something happened to her. And she should be treated with respect.”

He also said, “she should not have to go through the things Anita Hill went through.”

Brzezinski wanted to know if the same applied to Reade. Biden said that “women have a right to be heard,” but that their claims should be investigated — and that in this case, the claims are false.

Reade has a right to her statements, he said, “but I have a right to say, ‘Look at the facts.’”

Reade’s allegation is the latest episode in a checkered record for Biden when it comes to women’s rights. In the Senate, he co-authored the Violence Against Women Act, the first comprehensive national law to address issues of domestic abuse and sexual assault, as Vox’s Li Zhou reports. But in addition to the Hill controversy, he’s also faced scrutiny for his personal conduct, including allegations that he touched and kissed women in ways that made them uncomfortable. And on the campaign trail, he’s been criticized for responding to questions by women in ways that seem condescending.

Reade has also faced questions about her credibility, with some pointing to her support for Biden’s primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders, as well as her past writings praising Russian President Vladimir Putin. Reade previously told Vox that she no longer supports Putin, and that “this conversation isn’t about Russia.”

“Joe Biden wasn’t asking me about my feelings about Russia when he had his hands where they weren’t supposed to be,” she said.

Unless something comes up in a search of the National Archives, or a search of Biden’s papers at the university goes forward, the former vice president is essentially asking Americans to believe his word, and those of others who worked with him at the time, over Reade’s. Only time will tell what they decide.

But with Reade continuing to speak out, and Biden preparing to face a candidate with his own long history of facing allegations, the issue is unlikely to go away.

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