Joe Biden denied a sexual assault accusation Friday, speaking for the first time about a charge that for weeks has raised pressure on him and fellow Democrats who have championed the fight against harassment and sexual abuse of women.
“I want to address allegations by a former staffer that I engaged in misconduct 27 years ago. They aren’t true. This never happened,” Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, said in a statement.
Women’s advocacy groups praised Biden for addressing the accusation, but also called for continued transparency, while Republicans offered a taste of the attacks to come.
Biden called on the secretary of the Senate and the National Archives to identify and release any record of a harassment complaint his former Senate aide, Tara Reade, says she filed, or any other documents related to the accusation.
He said neither he nor anyone he knows is aware of any such complaint. But in a television interview, he resisted the idea of allowing a search of his private Senate records, housed at the University of Delaware, saying there are no personnel documents there.
Republicans — pointing to the furor that surrounded an unproven sexual assault accusation against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 — accused Biden of hypocrisy and lack of transparency. As Trump falls behind Biden in polls, the president’s campaign has made clear it will raise questions about Biden’s Senate records in ways that already echo the criticism over a missing batch of Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016.
“The only thing Joe Biden did today was dig himself a deeper hole,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Erin Perrine said in a statement. “In a dramatic shift, Biden now says ‘believe women’ doesn’t actually mean ‘believe women.’”
Biden, in a morning interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, was pressed on his 2018 comments about the sexual assault claim brought against Kavanaugh. He had said, “You’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real, whether or not she forgets facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time.”
On Friday Biden said, “Women have a right to be heard, and the press should rigorously investigate claims they make. I’ll always uphold that principle. But in the end, in every case, the truth is what matters. And in this case, the truth is that the claims are false.”
Trump has faced more than a dozen accusations of sexual assault over many years, and largely brushed them off, sometimes attacking his accusers. He has stonewalled requests for personal documents such as tax returns. A recording that became public during the 2016 campaign caught him bragging about grabbing women’s genitals.
Biden has faced no accusations as serious as Reade’s during a career spanning five decades. She said the incident happened in 1993, but she made it public in March.
While Trump has survived such controversies, the issue is more fraught for Democrats. Women have driven the party’s resurgence since Trump’s election, and are being counted on again as a crucial part of Democrats’ 2020 coalition.
Four Pennsylvania women who embody that emphasis, Reps. Madeleine Dean, Chrissy Houlahan, Mary Gay Scanlon, and Susan Wild, all of the Philadelphia suburbs and Lehigh Valley and all elected in 2018, held a Zoom event supporting Biden Friday evening. The accusation did not come up.
As Biden tries to consolidate his support on the left, top Democratic officials have stood behind him, citing his character. But some had urged him to speak out personally and progressive critics have slammed him as the issue built for weeks with denials from his campaign, but not the former vice president himself.
As new information emerged this week seemingly supporting Reade, Biden emphasized his support from women, holding online events with Hillary Clinton and soccer icon Megan Rapinoe.
Although Reade said she filed a complaint about Biden’s behavior in 1993, she doesn’t have it and reporters have been unable to locate it. Biden said neither he nor his aides had ever seen it.
“I’m confident there’s nothing,” Biden said on MSNBC. “If it’s there, put it out, but I’ve never seen it. No one has that I’m aware of.”
He also said he has no non-disclosure agreements.
Speaking to MSNBC from the studio built in his Delaware home, Biden confronted the accusation but appearing flustered at times when pressed about his Senate records.
Interviewed by Morning Joe cohost Mika Brzezinski, he repeatedly said those records do not contain personnel files, and contain private documents and papers, including conversations with foreign leaders, that could be taken out of context and weaponized in a campaign. Brzezinski repeatedly asked if he would allow a search strictly for information about Reade, but Biden returned to his argument that those records would not include personnel files.
Even if a complaint could be found, Reade has said her filing focused on harassment, not the assault accusation she recently made.
“Vice President Joe Biden needed to address Tara Reade’s allegation today,” said a statement Friday from Tina Tchen, president of TIME’S UP Now, a group focused on fighting harassment. “We call for complete transparency into this claim and the multiple claims against President Donald Trump. As we go forward, American voters are entitled to a full understanding of all allegations of this nature.”
Similarly, the Women’s March said that “as someone seeking to lead the country, Vice President Biden has a responsibility to model what it looks like to believe women by allowing for a fair inquiry of the facts.... That means making documentation of correspondence and potential witnesses available, answering uncomfortable questions, and discouraging political smears and harassment against the person making the allegation."
Reade first made her accusation in March, saying in a podcast interview that in 1993 Biden pinned her against a wall and pushed his fingers inside her in a Senate building. It was a significant escalation from when she first spoke out about Biden, in April 2019, when she told the Grass Valley Union in California that he put his hand on her shoulders and neck, but made no mention of sexual assault.
The New York Times spoke to a friend of Reade’s who anonymously corroborated her story, and Business Insider spoke to a former neighbor, Lynda LaCasse, who said Reade told her about the incident a few years after she says it happened. Both the Times and the Washington Post spoke to several former Biden staffers who don’t remember any allegations of assault.
Neither newspaper found evidence that could conclusively support or invalidate Reade’s claim, and skeptics have raised questions about her changing story.
“I’m not going to start questioning her motives. I’m not going to go after Tara Reade for saying these things,” Biden said Friday. “It’s simple: What are the facts? Do anything of the things she said add up? It never happened.”