Joe Biden on Friday gave his first public comments on a sexual assault allegation that has threatened to roil his presidential campaign, denying the incident occurred.
“This never happened,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said in a statement.
The former U.S. vice-president further addressed the issue on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
“This is an open book,” he said. “There’s nothing for me to hide.”
Former Senate staffer Tara Reade says Biden assaulted her in the basement of a Capitol Hill office building in the 1990s. His campaign issued a statement in early April denying the allegation, and a number of former Biden staffers have defended their boss in interviews.
“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,” Biden said in a statement. “The second is that their stories should be subject to appropriate inquiry and scrutiny.”
“I’m not going to go and question her motive, I’m not going to attack her,” he said in the MSNBC interview.
He appeared to sidestep a question on whether he remembered Reade.
Accuser has given multiple interviews
Reade publicly accused Biden of inappropriate touching last year, but did not allege sexual assault.
In recent weeks, she’s given a handful of interviews, saying Biden’s actions went further than she initially disclosed. In an interview with the AP, she detailed a 1993 encounter that she says occurred when she was asked by a supervisor to bring Biden his gym bag as he was on his way down to the Senate gymnasium.
She says Biden pushed her against a wall in the basement of a Capitol Hill office building, groped her and penetrated her with his fingers.
Reade said she filed a written report with a Senate personnel office. But she didn’t receive a copy of it and has been unable to obtain one since because, she said, Biden’s Senate files are currently at the University of Delaware, which has not yet made them public.
Biden, who served as a Delaware senator from 1973 to 2009, said Friday those files he donated do not contain personnel matters, but said a “complaint of this kind” would most likely be at 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.”
When asked by Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski why he wouldn’t release the Delaware records nonetheless, he said: “The idea that they would all be made public while I was running for public office, they could really be taken out of context.”
He reiterated that a more localized search for Reade’s name would not be applicable as there are no personnel files contained in that repository.
There is also the question of whether any historic records unearthed would be especially instructive to the sexual assault allegation, given that Reade has admitted she’s only revealed the incident publicly this spring.
Reade acquaintances say she recounted incidents
When asked to explain the new details not recounted last year, Reade told AP earlier this month that she was reluctant to share details of the assault during her initial conversations with reporters in 2019 because she was scared of backlash, and was still coming to terms with what happened to her.
“Already I was being threatened and kind of smeared, and I just — I wasn’t ready,” she said. “So I talked about the sexual harassment and what I was comfortable talking about, but I wasn’t ready to talk about sexual assault.”
Reade, who was a staff assistant in Biden’s office at the time, said she wasn’t aware of any direct witnesses to the encounter. She left the position later in 1993.
She told the AP she did raise accusations of sexual harassment, but not assault, against Biden in multiple meetings with her supervisors, including Marianne Baker, Biden’s executive assistant; Dennis Toner, Biden’s deputy chief of staff; and Ted Kaufman, the senator’s chief of staff.
The AP previously spoke to five current or former Biden staffers, all of whom worked for him at the time of the alleged incident. None recalled such an incident or a report, and neither Toner nor Kaufman could recall Reade.
Reade’s claims have taken on fresh attention this week after two of Reade’s associates said she previously told them about elements of her allegations.
Lynda LaCasse, who was Reade’s neighbour in the 1990s, told Business Insider that Reade told her about the alleged assault around the time it happened. LaCasse said that when they were neighbours in 1995 or 1996, Reade told her “about the senator that she had worked for and he put his hand up her skirt.”
“She felt like she was assaulted, and she really didn’t feel there was anything she could do,” LaCasse told Business Insider.
A second woman, Lorraine Sanchez, worked with Reade for California state Sen. Jack O’Connell from 1994 to 1996. Sanchez told Business Insider that Reade said “she had been sexually harassed by her former boss while she was in D.C.” and was fired for voicing her concerns.
Late last week, the Intercept unearthed a 1993 video clip that shows a woman Reade says was her mother calling into CNN’s Larry King Live. In the clip, an unnamed woman from San Luis Obispo, Calif., tells King that her daughter just left Washington, “after working for a prominent senator, and 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.”
Republicans accuse Democrats of hypocrisy
Republicans worried about President Donald Trump’s increasingly precarious political standing are seizing on the allegation to portray Democrats as hypocrites who only defend women who allege wrongdoing against conservatives.
They’ve pressed the issue even as Trump has been asked since the 2016 campaign to answer for the more than two dozen women who alleged varying levels of sexual assault and harassment.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News on Thursday that Biden will “have to participate in releasing all the information related to” the allegation, a stance he didn’t take when Trump faced misconduct accusations.
Republicans argue Biden and Democrats aren’t being consistent, pointing to aggressive questioning and coverage of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when he faced an allegation of sexual assault.
Steve Guest, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, said “the left, and their media allies, has one standard for Republicans and another standard for Democrats like Joe Biden.”
“The double standard,” he said, “is appalling.”
Biden plans to pick a woman as running mate
Biden told Brzezinski he saw no hypocrisy with how he reacted to Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that Kavanaugh had assaulted her in the 1980s.
“From the beginning I said ‘take the woman’s claim seriously,'” he said. “Then vet and rigorously investigate. It’s the truth that matters.”
Democrats are in an awkward position of vigorously validating women who come forward with their stories while defending the man who will be their standard-bearer in what many in the party consider the most important election of their lifetimes.
Biden wrote the Violence Against Women Act as a senator, but he also came under heavy criticism for his handling of Anita Hill’s Senate testimony accusing future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Just before he launched his 2020 campaign, several women accused him of unwanted touching, behaviour for which he apologized.
Biden, 77, has pledged to pick a woman as a running mate.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who helped push for colleague Al Franken’s ouster on allegations of sexual misconduct, defended Biden on a conference call with reporters.
“I stand by [former] vice-president Biden,” Gillibrand said. “He’s devoted his life to supporting women and he has vehemently denied this allegation.”
Some Democratic donors and fundraisers say the issue has not come up in calls with party financiers. Others worry that it could be used against Biden, much as Hillary Clinton’s private email server and the activities of the Clinton Foundation were wielded against her by Trump.