Biden Personally Responds To Sexual Assault Allegation

May 1, 2020
Originally published on May 1, 2020 7:51 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's been more than a month now since a former Senate staffer of Joe Biden accused the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee of sexually assaulting her back in 1993. Today, Biden responded personally for the first time. He spoke to MSNBC.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Did you sexually assault Tara Reade?

JOE BIDEN: No. It is not true. I'm saying unequivocally it never, never happened. And it didn't. It never happened.

KELLY: For more on Biden's response and the reaction to that response, we are joined by NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid. And, Asma, why is Biden speaking now?

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Well, frankly, political pressure on him has been mounting. And Republicans had been amplifying the story. You know, they were singling out congressional Democrats to respond to it. But even some women's rights activists on the left had been wanting Biden to respond to the allegation himself directly.

KELLY: I want to note this next minute or so may include descriptions that many people listening will find uncomfortable. But I do need to ask you to lay out exactly what Reade's allegation is and how Biden addressed it this morning.

KHALID: Yeah, that's right. The woman's name is Tara Reade. And I've spoken with her multiple times. She told me that sometime in the spring of 1993, Joe Biden pinned her up against a wall in a hallway on Capitol Hill. And she says he put his fingers inside of her vagina. She told me she could not remember the exact date or location of the alleged assault. She said she had other experiences of harassment in the office, and she filed a complaint about that. But she couldn't remember the name of the Senate office where she filed that complaint. And she said she doesn't have a copy of it.

Biden says, you know, today that he's confident that there is nothing. You know, he says that no one in his office brought a complaint to him 27 years ago. And he reiterated that women do have a right to be heard about these allegations but that those allegations also need to be investigated. And he pointed back to his support in changing the culture and the laws around sexual assault. You know, one last thing, Mary Louise, I want to mention is that I've tried to reach Reade herself today to get a sense of what her response to all of this has been. I have not heard from her so far. I tried her a couple of times. And as far as I know, she has not responded publicly to what he said.

KELLY: OK. So many questions here. And another thing that Biden said this morning was that records that - from the time, from 1993, that they can be released. What would be involved with that? And where are they?

KHALID: He did. And I should be very clear that any record of a complaint from Tara Reade herself is not going to answer the question of whether or not this alleged assault occurred because, you know, as I mentioned, she says she did not mention the assault in her complaint. But still, she herself has been suggesting that there's some proof of how she was treated that she feels is being hidden away at the University of Delaware. That's where Biden's personal papers are. Those files are not yet public.

Biden today emphasized that there are no HR, no personnel files at the University of Delaware. He said that the one place that any such complaint would be, if it exists, is the National Archives, and that he'd be instructing the secretary of the Senate to identify that complaint and release it to the press. You know, the thing about these records is that in trying to clear up the story, Biden sort of opened up a Pandora's box. He was asked on "Morning Joe" today, why not just open up all your records, even all these records at the University of Delaware just for the sake of transparency?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORNING JOE")

BIDEN: The papers are position papers. They are documents that existed and that - when, for example, when I go - when I met with Putin or when I met with whomever. And all of that to be fodder in a campaign at this time, I don't know of anybody who's done anything like that. And so the National Archives is the only place there would be anything having to do with personnel records.

KHALID: And we should say that, however, the National Archives told us that any personnel complaints from 1993 would actually be under the control of the Senate. So it's unclear where these records are.

KELLY: All right. It does sound like a bit of a Pandora's box. What has the response to Biden's remarks overall been?

KHALID: Well, largely along expected political lines. You know, Republicans have pounced on how Biden answered these questions about the Delaware record, saying, you know, what other things is he seemingly hiding? Maybe his relationships, negotiations with China that is trying to keep out of the public eye.

As for Democrats, the common response is that, look, you know, Biden answered questions. And they point out that that's more than what President Trump has done when he's faced far more accusations of sexual assault. It's a message I heard also from the group Time's Up Now, which sprang up as a movement, you know, in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement. They say that Biden sat down, he addressed this seriously, which is something that President Trump has never done.

KELLY: NPR's Asma Khalid. Thanks so much, Asma.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.