WASHINGTON — Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in a statement early Friday morning denied allegations of sexual assault made by a former Senate staffer, addressing the matter publicly for the first time.
In March, Tara Reade, a former aide who worked in Biden’s Senate office, alleged that in the spring of 1993, he cornered her in a hallway, kissed her, reached under her skirt and digitally penetrated her without her consent.
In a statement emailed to the media, Biden categorically said those events did not happen.
“They aren’t true. This never happened,” the statement read. “While the details of these allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault are complicated, two things are not complicated. 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.”
Biden said his denial is supported by several former staffers who told major news networks that they did not recall Reade making such allegations at the time.
“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,” wrote Biden.
In the weeks after Reade’s allegations, his campaign denied them but Biden himself, who has kept a low profile during the coronavirus pandemic, did not address them, nor was he asked, in the media appearances he made.
“Vice President Biden has dedicated his public life to changing the culture and the laws around violence against women,” Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s communications director, said in a statement to the New York Times in April. “He authored and fought for the passage and reauthorization of the landmark Violence Against Women Act. He firmly believes that women have a right to be heard — and heard respectfully. Such claims should also be diligently reviewed by an independent press. What is clear about this claim: It is untrue. This absolutely did not happen.”
On Friday, nearly a month later, Biden spoke up. He responded to continued calls to release his Senate papers housed at the University of Delaware, saying they would not contain a record of an assault accusation — that the National Archives would be where any such record might be kept. In his statement, Biden said he was requesting the secretary of the Senate to make public any document mentioning the allegation, if indeed one exists.
“If there was ever any such complaint, the record will be there,” said Biden.
On MSNBC later Friday morning, host Mika Brzezinski pushed Biden repeatedly on why he’s not opening his Senate records at the University of Delaware. Biden insisted “there are no personnel documents” in the archive, which contains official papers, including records of private conversations with President Barack Obama and other world leaders. Material in them “could be taken out of context” and might be “fodder in a campaign,” he said, explaining why they are sealed until after he retires from public life.
The Trump campaign sent several emails blasting Biden and Democratic allies for “hypocrisy,” citing their support for accusations during the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
When asked on Thursday about the allegations, President Trump said that Biden “should respond,” while raising the possibility that the accusations may not be true.
“It could be false accusations. I know all about false accusations,” Trump told reporters.
The accusations against Biden were overshadowed in the media by coverage of the coronavirus. But mostly nontraditional outlets, such as the Intercept and Hill.tv, ran with the story before industry juggernauts like the Washington Post and the New York Times. Subsequent reporting in Business Insider corroborating parts of Reade’s account pushed her story squarely into the mainstream.
Even still, the former vice president maintains that people “need to hear the truth.”
“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,” wrote Biden. “That’s not me. I believe being accountable means having the difficult conversations, even when they are uncomfortable. People need to hear the truth.”