Top Democratic leaders and allies of Joe Biden are being asked to respond to an allegation of sexual assault leveled against the former vice president by Tara Reade, at a moment when many in the Democratic Party are eager to consolidate support for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Some of Biden’s highest-profile surrogates – including Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, as well as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who ended his own 2020 campaign last week before endorsing Biden on Monday – have confronted questions in recent days about the serious accusation brought forth by Reade, a woman who worked in Biden’s Senate office in the early 1990s. The Biden campaign has denied the allegation.
Whitmer, a national co-chair of Biden’s campaign and on his shortlist of vice presidential picks, was asked on NPR whether the allegation gives her any pause about supporting Biden. Whitmer has publicly discussed having been sexually assaulted while in college.
“Well, I think women should be able to tell their stories. I think that it is important that these allegations are vetted, from the media to beyond. And I think that, you know, it is something that no one takes lightly,” Whitmer said. “But it is also something that is, you know, personal. And so it’s hard to give you greater insight than that, not knowing more about the situation.”
Klobuchar, also widely speculated about as a possible Biden running mate, similarly told NPR that “all women in these cases have the right to be heard and have their claims thoroughly reviewed.” She pointed to the dozens of people who worked with Biden at the time of the alleged assault who had been interviewed by media outlets, and went on to say that she sees Biden as a “leader” on the issue of domestic abuse.
In an interview on CBS’ “This Morning” this week, Sanders was asked if he believes it is legitimate and relevant to talk about Reade’s allegation. “I think it’s relevant to talk about anything. And I think any woman who feels that she was assaulted has every right in the world to stand up and make her claims,” he responded.
Asked if Reade’s claims should weigh significantly, the Vermont senator added: “I think that she has the right to make her claims and get a public hearing, and the public will make their own conclusions about it. I just don’t know enough about it to comment further.”
For some of Biden’s supporters and surrogates, questions related to Reade’s allegation have presented a challenging balancing act – of expressing support for Biden’s candidacy and character while not dismissing a sexual assault allegation. Democrats in particular have vocally championed the #MeToo movement in recent years, advocating for all accusers to be fully heard and recognized, including the more than a dozen women who have publicly leveled allegations against President Donald Trump, ranging from unwelcome advances to sexual harassment and assault. Trump has denied those allegations.
The 1993 allegation
CNN reached out to Reade this week, but she has not agreed to be interviewed.
Reade had publicly accused Biden last year of touching her shoulders and neck and making her feel uncomfortable. Now, according to the Times, she alleges that in 1993, Biden had “pinned her to a wall in a Senate building, reached under her clothing and penetrated her with his fingers.”
The publication also spoke with a friend of Reade’s, who said Reade had told her about the alleged assault at the time; a second friend said Reade told her in 2008 that Biden had touched her inappropriately. The Times said it also had spoken with nearly two dozen people who worked with Biden in the early 1990s, and none corroborated Reade’s allegation.
The Washington Post interviewed Reade’s brother, who told the paper that she had told him in 1993 that Biden had “behaved inappropriately by touching her neck and shoulders” but not about the alleged sexual assault. Several days after that interview with Reade’s brother, the Post said, “he said in a text message that he recalled her telling him that Biden had put his hand ‘under her clothes.’ ”
Reade also told the Times that she had filed a complaint about Biden with the Senate in 1993 but that she did not have a copy of it; the Times said it could not locate it.
Reade filed a police report in Washington about the alleged assault last week. CNN obtained the incident report from DC police – it states that “Subject-1 disclosed that she was the victim of a sexual assault which was committed by Subject-2 in 1993.”
Reade told the Times that she filed the report to “give herself an additional degree of safety from potential threats.” She also said that she did not go public with the allegation of sexual assault last year because when she had initially shared the complaint of Biden touching her neck and shoulders, she received death threats and felt afraid.
Biden campaign’s denial
In a statement provided to CNN, Biden’s deputy campaign manager and communications director, Kate Bedingfield, denied Reade’s allegation, calling it “untrue.”
“Vice President Biden has dedicated his public life to changing the culture and the laws around violence against women. He authored and fought for the passage and reauthorization of the landmark Violence Against Women Act. He firmly believes that women have a right to be heard - and heard respectfully,” Bedingfield said. “Such claims should also be diligently reviewed by an independent press. What is clear about this claim: it is untrue. This absolutely did not happen.”
The campaign also shared a statement from Marianne Baker, who was Biden’s executive assistant in the 1980s and 1990s when he was a senator. Reade told the Times that she had complained to Baker and two other aides about harassment by Biden, but not about the alleged assault.
“In all my years working for Senator Biden, I never once witnessed, or heard of, or received, any reports of inappropriate conduct, period – not from Ms. Reade, not from anyone. I have absolutely no knowledge or memory of Ms. Reade’s accounting of events, which would have left a searing impression on me as a woman professional, and as a manager,” Baker said. “These clearly false allegations are in complete contradiction to both the inner workings of our Senate office and to the man I know and worked so closely with for almost two decades.”
Baker also said that dozens of employees had reported to her over the years, and that Biden himself had fostered “a professional workplace” environment in his Senate office.
Last year, multiple women publicly came forward to say that Biden had made them feel uncomfortable in the way that he physically interacted with them. None of them accused him of sexual assault.
Lucy Flores, a former Nevada assemblywoman, described an encounter with Biden in 2014 where she said he had made her feel “uneasy, gross and confused” by coming up from behind her and kissing the back of her head
At the time, Biden said that in all of his years as a public figure, “not once – never – did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.”