Biden Denial of Sex-Assault Claim Bogs Down on Records
Former Vice President Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, gestures towards a supporter in Columbus, Ohio, U.S. (Photographer: Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg)

Biden Denial of Sex-Assault Claim Bogs Down on Records

(Bloomberg) -- Joe Biden ended weeks of silence on a former staffer’s allegations of sexual assault with a forceful denial Friday, yet his request to release personnel records ran into questions over status of the files that have erased any hopes of a swift resolution to the issue.

“This claim is simply not true, it did not happen. Now, my knowledge that it isn’t true does nothing to shake my belief that women have to be able to be heard, and that all the claims be taken seriously,” Biden said at virtual fundraiser.

He also called for continued investigation into the matter by the press and others. “I’m not concerned about what they might find, because I know the truth of the matter. I know that this claim has no merit. But as a candidate for president, I’m accountable to the American people and I welcome that accountability and the scrutiny of the press as well,” he said.

The former vice president’s comments came more than a month after a former staffer in his Senate office, Tara Reade, went public with her allegation that he pushed her against a wall in an office building, put his hand up her skirt and sexually assaulted her with his fingers.

Biden’s campaign initially denied the allegation in a written statement and three former Biden senior staffers who Reade said she told about it do not recall such conversations.

Reade has said she made a more formal harassment complaint to what was then called Office of Fair Employment Practices in the Senate but does not have a copy of the document. Reade’s brother and a former neighbor have told reporters they remember being told about the incident.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” early Friday, Biden said he was asking the National Archives to search their records and release any complaint from Reade -- only to have the Archives say hours later that any complaint about misconduct in the Senate would not be housed there, but would be held by the Senate.

So on Friday afternoon, Biden sent a letter to the secretary of the Senate, instructing her to release any documentation related to Reade’s allegations of sexual assault

“I request that you take or direct whatever steps are necessary to establish the location of the records of this Office, and once they have been located, to direct a search for the alleged complaint and to make public the results of this search,” Biden wrote in the letter.

The back-and-forth over the records highlighted the dilemma for Biden’s campaign: By calling for full transparency, he is hanging his defense on trying to prove a negative -- that the records don’t exist because Reade never filed a complaint. But the strategy could allow his critics to say any complaint was merely lost to time or sloppy record keeping.

In addition, Biden repeatedly declined on Friday to open sealed Senate archives at the University of Delaware, saying they would not hold any relevant information because they do not include papers related to personnel matters.

Biden donated 1,875 boxes of his Senate papers to the university in 2011. Release of those records to the public, originally to be within two years of Biden leaving office, was pushed back to two years after he exits public life.

The change was announced on April 24, 2019, the day before Biden formally launched his campaign.

“The language was modified to more accurately reflect the intent of the donation of the papers in anticipation of Mr. Biden’s potential return to public office,” Andrea Boyle Tippett, a university spokeswoman, said Friday. She said the Biden papers are still being curated, a process that is expected to take until the spring of 2021 to complete

Many Democrats said they accepted his denial and remain committed to supporting him. Reade’s accusation has forced Democrats to turn the lens of the #MeToo movement on one of their own. They are left having to balance believing women with also supporting the accused man, who just happens to be the current party leader. Faced with the choice between Biden and President Donald Trump, whose record includes allegations made by dozens of women, they see only one possible path.

“I believe @JoeBiden,” former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who has endorsed him, wrote on Twitter. “Anyone who knows him knows this allegation is antithetical to his character, to the culture in his office, to his soul. He has never been that kind of guy. Ever. The story has been heard and vetted. No staffer remembers it. No complaint found. Move on.”

Reade’s accusation has forced Democrats to assess Biden’s handling of the accusation in light of their past support for the claims by Christine Blasey Ford that she had been sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh, which surfaced during his confirmation hearing to become a Supreme Court justice.

Time’s Up CEO Tina Tchen, a former chief of staff to Michelle Obama, said Friday on MSNBC that she appreciated Biden’s effort to address Reade’s allegations and his request for her personnel records to be released. She suggested that the same “transparency” should come from “every candidate running for president,” a nod to Trump.

Tchen suggested that even if Reade’s accusation were to be substantiated, voters should consider it along with everything else they know about Biden -- and about Trump.

“No one is one single moment. No one is one single issue in their life,” she said. “There are huge issues when you’re running for president that kind of cross every dimension of policy and character and, you know, we are fighting to make sure we take all of those issues into account. But in order to do that, you have to know the facts on all of those issues.”

Lis Smith, a communications adviser to former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, also brought up the allegations against Trump. “If the GOP wants to make this an issue, they’ll have to reckon with the fact that their president hasn’t answered any tough (questions) about the scores of assault allegations against him,” she said on Twitter.

Biden said he would not speculate on why Reade had chosen to speak out now but stressed there are two sides of the story. “I’m not going to go in and question her motive,” he said. “I’m 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.’”

But online, Biden allies have been doing just that, pointing to her history of positive tweets about Biden -- including in support of his advocacy against sexual violence -- and her praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin and apparent support for former rival Bernie Sanders, Biden’s former rival.

On Friday, Trump both raised the possibility that the accusations could be false, as he says the ones against him are, and said that Reade’s mother seemed very “credible” on a 1993 tape of her calling into a cable news show asking about how her daughter should deal with “problems” with a prominent senator.

“And all of the sudden, you become a wealthy guy, you’re a famous guy. Then you become president, and people that you’ve never seen, that you’ve never heard of make charges. So, you know, I guess in a way you could say I’m sticking up for him,” Trump said in a podcast interview. “But the mother was very compelling, certainly, and the girlfriend or the friends were very compelling, and certainly far more compelling than anything that had with respect to Brett Kavanaugh.”

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