Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Friday morning directly replied for the first time to accusations that he sexually assaulted one of his Senate staff assistants in 1993.
“So I want to address allegations by a former staffer that I engaged in misconduct 27 years ago,” Biden said in a written statement issued shortly before an appearance on MSNBC. “They aren’t true. This never happened.” He also called upon the Senate to ask the National Archives to release any documentation of the incident to the press.
READ the full statement below.
The assistant, Tara Reade, has said Biden “penetrated” her “with his fingers” as the two were walking together in a “semi-private” area in the capitol complex. Reade later pointed to a bereft-of-details phone call to Larry King Live in August 1993 as corroboration: Reade claims the voice on the phone was her now-deceased mother and that her mother was signaling that something was wrong. The caller told King her daughter was “working for a prominent senator” but “could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.” Reade’s former next-door neighbor has also said Reade discussed the alleged assault in 1995 or 1996.
Biden said that while women need to “be heard, not silenced” and “treated with dignity and respect,” their accusations needed to be “subject[ed] to appropriate inquiry and scrutiny.”
Biden said his own staff from the time cannot recall a complaint from Reade, which she has said she made. Biden also said a record of any complaint would be in the National Archives. (Biden’s policy papers went to the University of Delaware; Biden said personnel records would not have gone to the University.)
“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. If there was ever any such complaint, the record will be there,” Biden said in the written statement.
In a concomitant appearance on MSNBC, Biden said he was prepared to release “any” complaint against him, not just one related to the Reade accusations. “To the best of my knowledge, there’ve been no complaints made against me,” Biden said. He said there was “nothing for me to hide; nothing at all.”
Biden also dismissed Reade’s insinuation that her complaint might be buried in Biden’s University of Delaware archive.
Interviewer Mika Brzezinski asked Biden if he would order the University of Delaware to release “any” document bearing Reade’s name — not just a complaint. Biden demurred by again saying Reade’s complaint — assuming it was made — would simply have not wound up there.
Biden noted that his staff is not governed by a nondisclosure agreement.
Brzezinski hit Biden with his own words during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process about taking women seriously.
BRZEZINSKI (to BIDEN): You said this: “for a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she is talking about is real. Whether or not she forgets the facts, whether or not it’s been made worse or better over time.”
Brzezinski then noted Reade was going to appear on national television Sunday.
BRZEZINSKI (to BIDEN): To use your words, should we not start off with the presumption that the essence of what she’s talking about is real? She says you sexually assaulted her.
BIDEN: Look, from the very beginning, I’ve said believing women means taking the woman’s claims seriously when she steps forward — and then vetted. Look into it. That’s true in this case as well. 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 claims are false.
Brzezinski circled back to the topic a few minutes further into the interview:
BRZEZINSKI: As it pertained to Dr. Ford . . . high-level Democrats said she should be believed; that they believed it happened. You said, ‘if someone like Dr. Ford were to come out the essence of what she is saying has to be believed; has to be real.’
Biden then attempted to inject another denial in a quick back-and-forth series of interruptions that ended this way.
BIDEN: No; I know what I said . . . It has to . . .
BREZEZINSKI: Why? Why? Why is it real for Dr. Ford and not for Tara Reade?
BIDEN: There — because the facts are — look. She — I’m not suggesting she had no right to come forward. And I never — I’m not saying any woman — they should come forward; they should be heard; and then it should be investigated. It should be investigated. And if there’s anything that makes it — that is consistent with what’s being said, and she makes the case, or the case is made, then it should be believed. But, ultimately, the truth matters. The truth matters.
Here was the full Biden statement:
April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Every year, at this time, we talk about awareness, prevention, and the importance of women feeling they can step forward, say something, and be heard. That belief – that women should be heard – was the underpinning of a law I wrote over 25 years ago. To this day, I am most proud of the Violence Against Women Act. So, each April we are reminded not only of how far we have come in dealing with sexual assault in this country – but how far we still have to go.
When I wrote the bill, few wanted to talk about the issue. It was considered a private matter, a personal matter, a family matter. I didn’t see it that way. To me, freedom from fear, harm, and violence for women was a legal right, a civil right, and a human right. And I knew we had to change not only the law, but the culture.
So, we held hours of hearings and heard from the most incredibly brave women – and we opened the eyes of the Senate and the nation – and passed the law.
In the years that followed, I fought to continually strengthen the law. So, when we took office and President Obama asked me what I wanted, I told him I wanted oversight of the critical appointments in the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice and I wanted a senior White House Advisor appointing directly to me on the issue. Both of those things happened.
As Vice President, we started the “It’s on Us” campaign on college campuses to send the message loud and clear that dating violence is violence – and against the law.
We had to get men involved. They had to be part of the solution. That’s why I made a point of telling young men this was their problem too – they couldn’t turn a blind eye to what was happening around them – they had a responsibility to speak out. Silence is complicity.
In the 26 years since the law passed, the culture and perceptions have changed but we’re not done yet.
It’s on us, and it’s on me as someone who wants to lead this country. 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. So I want to address allegations by a former staffer that I engaged in misconduct 27 years ago.
They aren’t true. This never happened.
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.
Responsible news organizations should examine and evaluate the full and growing record of inconsistencies in her story, which has changed repeatedly in both small and big ways.
But this much bears emphasizing.
She has said she raised some of these issues with her supervisor and senior staffers from my office at the time. 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.
There is a clear, critical part of this story that can be verified. The former staffer has said she filed a complaint back in 1993. But she does not have a record of this alleged complaint. The papers from my Senate years that I donated to the University of Delaware do not contain personnel files. It is the practice of Senators to establish a library of personal papers that document their public record: speeches, policy proposals, positions taken, and the writing of bills.
There is only one place a complaint of this kind could be – the National Archives. The National Archives is where the records are kept at what was then called the Office of Fair Employment Practices. 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. 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.
I have spent my career learning from women the ways in which we as individuals and as policy makers need to step up to make their hard jobs easier, with equal pay, equal opportunity, and workplaces and homes free from violence and harassment. I know how critical women’s health issues and basic women’s rights are. That has been a constant through my career, and as President, that work will continue. And I will continue to learn from women, to listen to women, to support women, and yes, to make sure women’s voices are heard.
We have a lot of work to do. From confronting online harassment, abuse, and stalking, to ending the rape kit backlog, to addressing the deadly combination of guns and domestic violence.
We need to protect and empower the most marginalized communities, including immigrant and indigenous women, trans women, and women of color.
We need to make putting an end to gender-based violence in both the United States and around the world a top priority.
I started my work over 25 years ago with the passage of the Violence Against Women Act. As president, I’m committed to finishing the job.
[Image via screen capture from MSNBC]
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