After weeks of silence, former Vice President Joe Biden has responded to accusations of sexual assault made by a former Senate aide, calling the allegations false and requesting that the National Archives make any record of her alleged complaint available.
“No. It is not true—I am saying unequivocally, it never, never happened,” Biden told Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinski. “And it didn’t.”
In the interview, Biden aggressively defended himself and said he was “absolutely positive” that no one he knows was made aware of any complaint that the former staffer, Tara Reade, says that she filed with the Senate’s Office of Fair Employment Practices. The former vice president also steadfastly refused to authorize the early release of his Senate papers from an archive at the University of Delaware, telling Brzezinski that the papers contain no personnel files.
“There are no personnel documents” in that archive, Biden said. “They’re not part of the public record.”
Ahead of the interview, Biden released a statement in which he highlighted his past legislative work on women’s issues, and noted that a New York Times investigation found no corroboration of Reade’s assertion that she told her supervisors about the incident.
“She has said she raised some of these issues with her supervisor and senior staffers from my office at the time,” Biden said. “They—both men and a woman—have said, unequivocally, that she never came to them and complained or raised issues.”
Biden noted that Reade said she filed a complaint at the time and that document, if it exists, would be in the National Archives.
“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,” he said. “If there was ever any such complaint, the record will be there.”
Biden’s denial is the first statement to come directly from the candidate since Reade, a former staff assistant in Biden’s Senate office, accused him in April of forcibly penetrating her with his fingers in a hallway in the U.S. Capitol in 1993.
The statement and interview follow weeks of reporting from multiple outlets that have corroborated elements of Reade’s story, which the Biden campaign has flatly denied.
Since Reade first accused Biden of the assault in a podcast interview with left-wing commentator Katie Halper, the former vice president’s campaign has referred reporters to a single statement by deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield, who said in April that “this absolutely did not happen.”
Biden, Bedingfield added, “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.”
Three people, including Reade’s brother, a former neighbor, and a friend who has remained anonymous, have told various news outlets that Reade had told them about some aspects of the alleged assault over the years—as well as her departure from Biden’s Senate office.
Reade has called on Biden to allow for the public release of his office records, currently in the possession of the University of Delaware, which she has claimed will validate her assertion that she complained about Biden’s behavior at the time to senior aides in his office.
The aides—including Marianne Baker, Tracy Doherty, and then-Chief of Staff Ted Kaufman—have denied recalling any conversation with Reade about any inappropriate behavior by Biden.
Reade has repeatedly claimed on Twitter that she also filed a complaint about Biden touching her inappropriately—though not about the alleged assault—with a “Senate Personnel” office. Though no office by that name exists, misconduct complaints at the time were the responsibility of the Senate’s Office of Fair Employment Practices. That office’s successor entity, the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, has told The Daily Beast that it cannot share or even verify the existence of such a complaint, which would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.
Biden’s defenders have pointed to these and other apparent inconsistencies in Reade’s story—she had previously said that Biden had only inappropriately touched her and made her feel uncomfortable—as evidence that the presumptive Democratic nominee is being falsely accused. Last week, the campaign circulated talking points to supporters that characterized a New York Times article about the allegations as having found that “this incident did not happen.” The Times has protested at this characterization of the article, which found that “no other allegation about sexual assault surfaced in the course of reporting, nor did any former Biden staff members corroborate any details of Ms. Reade’s allegation.”
But the allegations have put Biden’s supporters in an increasingly tight bind, particularly the women on his short list of potential running mates, almost all of whom have steadfastly avoided commenting on Reade’s accusation. Biden, as well, has avoided media engagements in which he might be asked about the allegations, and on Wednesday sidestepped an opportunity to address them directly during a virtual town-hall event where he was asked about military sexual assault.
“Look, we have to change the culture of abuse in this country, especially in armed services,” Biden said in response to the question, pivoting to his legislative record of advocating for women. “As you know, I wrote and championed the Violence Against Women Act, transformed how this country gets justice and support to survivors, and led the It’s on Us campaign to fight sexual assault on campuses. As VP, I fought to provide a special victims’ counsel for sexual-assault cases in the military.”
On MSNBC on Friday morning, Brzezinski pointed to Biden’s past advocacy for believing women who come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct, noting that when Christine Blasey Ford testified that then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had attempted to sexually assault her in high school, he had told reporters that “at least the essence” of such claims had to be taken as true.
“From the very beginning, I’ve said believing women means taking the woman’s claims seriously,” Biden said in response. “Women have a right to be heard, and the press should rigorously investigate the claims they make.”
“The truth is, the claims are false.”
The Republican Party and the re-election campaign of President Donald Trump—who has himself been accused of sexual misconduct, assault and rape by more than two dozen women—have increasingly sought to weaponize the accusations, with the National Republican Congressional Committee on Thursday sending out emails targeting vulnerable Democrats for their silence.
Despite those accusations against the president, the Trump campaign has expressed an increasing willingness to hit Biden over Reade’s allegations. Ahead of Biden’s interview on Morning Joe, the president’s campaign called the show “a reliable ally of Democrats accused of sexual misconduct,” noting that hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski have both talked about their personal fondness for Biden.
“Personally, we love Joe,” Scarborough is quoted as saying when Biden was accused of making women feel uncomfortable in a nonsexual manner last year.
“Love him!” Brzezinski added. “He’s not a predator.”
The Morning Joe hosts were also enlisted in disgraced former reporter Mark Halperin’s efforts to rehabilitate his career following numerous accusations of sexual misconduct.
On Thursday, Trump told reporters about the allegations that “I don’t know anything about it,” but added that “I think he should respond.”
“It could be false accusations—I know all about false accusations, I have been falsely charged numerous times,” Trump said. “But I don’t know, I can’t speak for Biden, I only think that he should respond and answer them.”