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Senate office says it lacks 'discretion' to release possible Biden complaint

The statement from the Secretary of the Senate's office spurred more questions from the Biden campaign about who controls the documents.
Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 29, 2020.Matt Rourke / AP file

WASHINGTON — A top Senate official reiterated Monday evening that the secretary of the Senate could not fulfill a request from former Vice President Joe Biden to find and release any documents pertaining to a complaint by a former staffer accusing him of sexual assault that she said she filed in 1993, but offered new detail about how her complaint would have been processed under policies at the time.

That alleged complaint would be about harassment that Tara Reade, the former staffer, says she experienced working in Biden’s office, not the alleged sexual assault.

Biden has denied the accusations. "I am saying unequivocally it never never happened and it didn't," he has said. " "It never happened."

In its second communication with Biden’s campaign of the day, the Secretary of the Senate’s office said it was “not aware of any exceptions in law” that would allow the disclosure of any workplace complaint filed against Biden.

A lawyer for the Democratic presidential candidate asked earlier if it could do so if the accuser also consented to its release.

Biden’s lawyer, Bob Bauer, had also asked the office if it could disclose the existence of any records, if not the record itself, and whether it could provide “procedural materials” that the relevant employment offices would have used to process a complaint.

The Senate office provided a 16-page document detailing procedures for the Senate Office of Fair Employment Practices for handling complaints about discrimination or “reprisal” from Senate employees.

Under that process, Reade’s first step would have been to submit a “request for counseling” — the first of three steps that might lead to a formal complaint and hearing. That counseling process involves informing the employee of their rights and responsibilities while also documenting their allegation.

Biden’s office would not have been notified of Reade’s allegation during this initial step, according to the employment practices. It would have been only if Reade moved into the next step, mediation.

In an interview with the Associated Press last year, Reade indicated that she “chickened out” after her initial outreach to the office. At the time, Reade alleged that Biden had sexually harassed her, stopping short of assault.

“They have this counseling office or something, and I think I walked in there once, but then I chickened out,” she said then.

NBC News has reached out to Reade to ask if she has additional detail about the process. On Saturday, Reade told NBC News in a text: “I filed a complaint re sexual harassment and retaliation but I am not sure what explicit words on that intake form until we all see it again.”