Biden denies Tara Reade sexual assault allegation, calls for release of records

The former vice president Friday responded for the first time to charges that he sexually assaulted a staffer in 1993.

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By Ali Vitali and Mike Memoli

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden, the apparent Democratic nominee for president, denied on Friday a former staffer's claim of sexual assault, and called for the release of any potential records related to the allegation.

"It is not true, I am saying unequivocally it never never happened and it didn't," Biden said in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "It never happened."

In a written statement issued just before the interview, Biden called the allegations “complicated,” and said women “deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

"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,” Biden continued.

During his "Morning Joe" interview, Biden expanded, saying, "from the very beginning, I've said believing women means taking the women's claims seriously when she steps forward, and then vetted. Look into it," Biden said. "That's true in this case, as well."

"In every case," he said, "the truth is what maters. In this case, the truth is the claims are false."

The former staffer, Tara Reade, has asserted in multiple media interviews that she filed a personnel complaint with the Senate alleging she faced harassment in Biden’s office. Reade told NBC News that her complaint, significantly, did not accuse Biden of assault.

“She does not have a record of this alleged complaint,” Biden noted in his written statement. Addressing calls from some to release any records that his personal Senate papers, now being archived at the University of Delaware, Biden said those papers "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,” he said.

"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."

On Tuesday afternoon, after the National Archives said it did not have control over Senate personnel documents, the campaign sent a letter to the secretary of the Senate asking for their release.

“I request that you take or direct whatever steps are necessary to establish the location of the records,” of his Senate office, Biden says in the letter. “And once they have been located, to direct a search for the alleged complaint and to make public the results of this search. I would ask that the public release include not only a complaint if one exists, but any and all other documents in the records that relate to the allegation.”

Pressed in the MSNBC interview about whether he would grant access to his papers at the University of Delaware to provide full transparency, Biden insisted that there would be no relevant personnel documents there. And he defended keeping the records under seal, as the University said in a new statement that it is continuing to

“The idea that they would all be made public" while he was running would mean "they could be really taken out of context,” he said, adding that the university has "a lot of confidential conversations that I had with the president about a particular issue, that I had with the heads of states of other places."

Returning to Reade’s claim, Biden told MSNBC that he would not question her motivations. "I don't know why she's saying this, why, after 27 years, all of a sudden this gets raised. I don't understand it. But I'm not going to go in and question her motive, not going to attack her. 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."

Based on reporting of these claims in the press that he's seen so far, Biden cited multiple former staffers attesting that "this was not the atmosphere in my office at all. No one has ever said anything like this."

Biden's initial comments Friday came in a lengthy statement that began by marking the end of Sexual Assault Awareness month. Biden said that as “someone who wants to lead this country,” he recognized his responsibility “to be a voice, an advocate, and a leader for the change in culture that has begun but is nowhere finished.”

He also promoted his work in writing the Violence Against Women Act, as well as the “It’s On Us” campaign he launched in the White House focused on addressing sexual assault on college campuses.

"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,” he said. "I believe being accountable means having the difficult conversations, even when they are uncomfortable. People need to hear the truth."

The comments were Biden's first direct response to Reade’s allegation of sexual assault since she first publicly detailed it in a March 26 interview with podcast host Katie Halper.

Off the campaign trail and largely sequestered in his Delaware home for more than a month, Biden also had not been asked about the allegation in any of the 10 national and local television interviews he’s conducted since mainstream media outlets, including NBC News, reported it.

In an interview earlier this month, Reade told NBC News that she was asked to deliver a gym bag to Biden sometime in spring 1993 and met up with him in an empty corridor somewhere in the Capitol complex. She alleged that Biden began kissing her and ran his hands up her shirt and under her skirt, penetrating her with his fingers. When she pulled away, Biden first said “You’re nothing to me,” she said, then tried to reassure her, before walking away.

Reade said that while she never came forward about what she said was an assault to her superiors in Biden's office, she was vocal about feeling harassed and made uncomfortable during the months she worked there.

That account went beyond what Reade had told her local newspaper in California last year just days after a former Nevada lawmaker had detailed what she considered inappropriate physical contact when Biden had campaigned for her. Reade initially alleged that Biden had touched her several times in a way that made her feel uncomfortable, but did not accuse him of sexual assault. Reade told NBC that she didn't feel comfortable telling her full story then.

The Biden campaign denied the allegation, saying it was clearly “untrue” and “absolutely did not happen." Other former Biden staffers rejected it as out of character for Biden and said they were unaware of it at the time.

Reade’s more recent allegation initially gained traction slowly, and primarily among Biden’s political opponents. But The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press and NBC News all published comprehensive stories about Reade’s account on April 12, shortly after she filed a police report in Washington.

Since then, Reade’s allegation has steadily received more attention and also scrutiny. And prominent Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several possible Biden vice presidential selections, have been asked about it, with all largely defending Biden.

“I have great sympathy for any woman who brings forth allegations. I do support Joe Biden,” Pelosi said in a CNN interview Thursday.

NBC’s reporting on the allegation was based on multiple conversations with Reade and others with whom she said she had shared varying degrees of detail about the incident. Three of those people said on the record that they did not recall any such conversation with Reade. A fourth — who asked that her name be withheld — said Reade told her about an alleged assault, while the fifth recalled Reade telling her about inappropriate touching but not an assault.

In the weeks since Reade made her assault allegation, NBC News has spoken with 14 people who worked in Biden’s various offices at the time of Reade’s alleged assault. Four of them declined to comment.

While most said they did not remember much about Reade specifically, none of the former staffers said they had heard any complaints about Biden’s behavior during their time in his office’s employ.

“You spend a lot of time with the staff, and you know, there’s gossip and there was never, ever, ever gossip about that kind of activity with Biden,” Sally Shafroth, who was the chief clerk on the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, said. “I just never heard, ever, any complaints about him touching or inappropriate behavior.

This week, a former neighbor of Reade’s, Lynda LaCasse, told NBC News that she also had been told by Reade about the alleged assault several years after it occurred. And Reade told NBC News last week that the voice of a woman who called “Larry King Live” in 1993 to talk about “problems” her daughter had while working for a “prominent senator” was her mother’s. NBC News has not been able to verify that. Her mother died in 2016.

Asked about the Reade allegation Thursday, President Donald Trump said he was unaware of it, but that Biden should respond. “It could be false allegations, I know all about false accusations. I’ve been falsely charged numerous times. There’s such a thing,” he said.

More than a dozen women have alleged that Trump sexually harassed or assaulted them. The president denies their accounts.