WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden has emphatically denied an allegation that he sexually assaulted a woman more than 25 years ago, breaking weeks of silence on an issue that has dogged his presidential campaign.
“They aren’t true. This never happened,” the presumptive Democratic nominee said Friday.
“Responsible news organizations should examine and evaluate the full and growing record of inconsistencies in her story, which has changed repeatedly in both small and big ways,” he said.
Biden released a written statement and then was interviewed on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in an effort to quell the growing controversy over the allegations by former aide Tara Reade.
He acknowledged a central principle in the #MeToo movement that has been embraced by Democrats, saying, “Women deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and when they step forward they should be heard, not silenced.”
He spoke amid mounting pressure from women’s groups and other supporters to go beyond the denial his campaign issued weeks ago, and address the accusation himself. The dispute has put his party in an awkward spot, as Republicans have pushed other Democrats to say whether they believe Biden or his accuser.
The allegation by Reade — that Biden cornered her in a Capitol Hill hallway in 1993 and thrust his hand under her skirt and his fingers inside her — first surfaced in late March in an interview she gave to a progressive podcaster. Major media organizations investigated her claims and did not find conclusive evidence to substantiate them.
Additional reports surfaced over the last week that included new corroborating evidence — people who recalled that she had told them at the time about at least some aspects of the allegation.
In his statement Friday, Biden disputed Reade’s claim that she had complained about his behavior to her supervisor and senior staffers in his office, noting that none had come forward to corroborate it.
He also disputed her claim to have filed a formal complaint to a Senate personnel office, noting she had no record of the complaint. Biden said if there was such a complaint, it would be in the records of the National Archives.
He called on the Secretary of the Senate to ask the Archives to identify and release any such records if they are found.
During the “Morning Joe” interview, Biden was asked if he would also open for scrutiny his records from 36 years in the Senate. The material is held by the University of Delaware, and is supposed to be released two years after he “retires from public life.”
Biden said he would not open his Senate records because they include no personnel files relevant to Reade’s allegations.
He argued that it would be inappropriate to release the records while he is running for president because they included “confidential conversations” with world leaders and position papers that might be taken out of context.
“That can be fodder in a campaign,” he said.
Biden, asked about Reade’s motives, declined to attack her or speculate on why she was making her allegations.
“I’m not going to attack her,” he said. “She has a right to say whatever she wants to say. But I have a right to say, ‘Look at the facts, check it out, find out whether any of what she says or asserted is true.’”
The controversy has put Democrats and women’s rights activists in a difficult position.
It tests their commitment to the #MeToo movement’s drive to empower sexual assault victims to tell their stories, which was central to the the fight over sexual harassment allegations against Brett M. Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation battle in 2018.
But many of those groups are loath to weaken the expected Democratic nominee against a president whom they consider a much greater threat to women’s rights. President Trump has faced many more — and more serious — accusations of sexual assault and harassment, all of which he has denied.
Before Biden spoke out, Planned Parenthood Action Fund issued a statement saying that survivors of sexual violence “should be heard, listened to, taken seriously, and treated with respect and dignity,” and that Biden should address Reade’s allegation directly.
“Any person seeking elected office — and especially the highest office in the land — needs to address allegations of sexual assault and harassment seriously, both as a systemic problem and with a sense of personal responsibility,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of the influential women’s health advocacy group.
One sign of how the controversy threatens to consume Biden’s campaign: When he appeared Thursday for a Instagram interview with soccer star Megan Rapinoe, the comments posted by viewers included many clamoring for Rapinoe to question Biden about Reade’s allegations.
Other Democrats continued to be pressed on the issue. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said in a CNN interview Thursday that she has “great sympathy for any women who brings forth an allegation.”
But she also said, referring to Biden, that she is “satisfied with how he has responded” to Reade’s allegation.
“I was proud to endorse him,” Pelosi said. “America needs a person like Joe Biden with his, again, his integrity and his vision for the future.”
Republicans stepped up their efforts to use the allegation as a political weapon. The Republican National Committee launched a video that accuses Democrats, the media and women’s rights advocates of hypocritically ignoring or downplaying allegations against Biden because he is a Democrat, not a Republican like Kavanaugh.
The National Republican Congressional Committee put out a barrage of news releases targeting House Democrats in competitive races who had supported Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. In an attack on freshman Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), the NRCC asked, “So does Haley believe Tara Reade’s allegations against her preferred presidential candidate Joe Biden?”
Trump refrained from piling on when asked about the allegations against Biden on Thursday.
“I don’t know anything about it,” he told reporters. “I don’t know exactly. I think he should respond. It could be false accusations. I know all about false accusations. I’ve been falsely charged numerous times. There is such a thing.”
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