May 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden addresses Tara Reade allegation: "This never happened"

Biden at the last Democratic presidential debate in March. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Joe Biden addressed allegations of sexual assault by former Senate staffer Tara Reade for the first time Friday, saying in a statement: "They aren’t true. This never happened." Biden also said he’s requesting a search for Reade’s alleged written complaint from 1993 to make available to the public if it exists.

Why it matters: The presumptive Democratic nominee faced mounting pressure to personally address Reade's allegation — and release decades-old Senate personnel records — even as key women and women's groups have vouched for his character, endorsed his candidacy and lined up to be considered as his running mate.

  • Reade has said she filed a written complaint with a "Senate personnel office" in 1993, but Biden said those records would not be with his Senate papers currently held at the University of Delaware — but at the National Archives.
  • He said that he is " 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."
  • "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.

What he's saying: "I'm not going to question her motive. I'm not going to get into that at all. I don't know why she's saying this. I don't know why all of a sudden after 27 years this gets raised. I don't understand it," Biden told MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

  • "She has a right to say whatever she wants to say, but I have a right to say, 'Look at the facts, check it out, whether any of what she says or asserted is true,'" he added.
  • He also said that he had never asked any former staffers to sign an NDA.
  • When pressed about doing a search for Reade's name in his files held at the University of Delaware, Biden said, "She said she filed a report with the only office that would have a report — with the United States Senate at the time. If the report was ever filed, it was filed there. Period."

Be smart: Two distinct forces have been driving the pressure on Biden to respond: The #MeToo movement and a backlash from Republicans who say Biden should have to face the same sort of scrutiny as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The big picture: President Trump, who has faced and denied at least 16 allegations of sexual misconduct or assault, said Thursday of Biden, "I think that he should respond," adding that "it could be false accusations, I know all about false accusations."

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview on Fox News that he didn't see how Biden could avoid the topic because running for president makes one's life "an open book."
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN she was satisfied with Biden's handling of the matter even without directly addressing the allegation, but acknowledged that deciding whether to personally respond was "a matter that he has to deal with."

Between the lines: Biden, 77, has long had a reputation for being overly physically familiar. Last year, he was forced to address complaints from women who said they considered his style harassment or inappropriate.

  • He didn't issue an apology but acknowledged that "social norms are changing," including the "boundaries of protecting personal space."
  • He has not faced other accusations like Reade's.
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