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Biden denies sexual assault allegation: ‘This never happened’

FILE - In this March 12, 2020, file photo Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
FILE - In this March 12, 2020, file photo Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Joe Biden released a statement Friday denying a former aide's claims he sexually assaulted her 27 years ago, saying of Tara Reade's allegation: "This never happened."

Friday's statement is the first detailed response from Biden to Reade's allegation and comes as pressure built on the presumptive Democratic nominee to personally address the matter.

"While the details of these allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault are complicated, 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. The second is that their stories should be subject to appropriate inquiry and scrutiny," the former vice president and presumptive Democratic 2020 nominee said in the statement.

He continued, "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."

"But this much bears emphasizing," he said. "She has said she raised some of these issues with her supervisor and senior staffers from my office at the time. They -- both men and a woman -- have said, unequivocally, that she never came to them and complained or raised issues. News organizations that have talked with literally dozens of former staffers have not found one -- not one -- who corroborated her allegations in any way. Indeed, many of them spoke to the culture of an office that would not have tolerated harassment in any way -- as indeed I would not have."

In the MSNBC interview, Biden said he is "saying unequivocally, it never, never happened. It didn't. It never happened."

He said he has not reached out to Reade, and does not remember her making any complaint.

"This never happened, and when she first made the claim, we made it clear that it never happened, and it's as simple as that," he said.

Allegation presents challenging balancing act

Biden's only response for weeks has been a statement from deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield highlighting the former vice president's role in crafting the Violence Against Women Act and saying what Reade had claimed "absolutely did not happen." Former Biden staffers also said Reade had not complained about Biden at the time.

The allegation comes as Biden is preparing to take on President Donald Trump in the general election. More than a dozen women have leveled allegations against Trump, ranging from unwelcome advances to sexual harassment and assault. Trump has denied those allegations.

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 that all accusers to be fully heard and recognized. And gender dynamics are expected to remain at the forefront of the 2020 race, as Biden begins his search for a female running mate.

Some of the women widely expected to be on Biden's shortlist of vice presidential nominees, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, have recently been asked about the allegation; Biden's allies have pointed to his decades-long advocacy for women and victims of abuse, including his work on the Violence Against Women Act.

Biden said in the MSNBC interview he did not know why Reade was now alleging he had sexually assaulted her.

"I'm not going to question her motive," he said. "I don't know why she's saying this. I don't know why after 27 years all of a sudden this gets raised. I don't understand it."

"She has a right to say whatever she wants to say. But I have a right to say, look at the facts," he said.

Reade’s allegation

Reade, who worked as a junior staffer at Biden's office in 1993, had publicly accused Biden last year of touching her shoulders and neck and making her feel uncomfortable.

Reade first came forward with her sexual assault allegation against Biden in interviews this year with multiple media outlets, including CNN.

She told CNN that in 1993, when she was working as an aide in Biden's Senate office, she was asked to deliver a duffel bag to the then-Delaware senator. In a corridor somewhere in the Capitol Hill complex, Reade said Biden "had me up against the wall; he used his knee to spread open my legs," and "put his fingers inside me."

A friend of Reade's, who asked to remain anonymous in order to protect her privacy, told CNN that Reade had told her in detail that she had been sexually assaulted by Biden on Capitol Hill. The friend said she believes Reade called her within days of the alleged assault.

A former neighbor of Reade has come forward and told CNN that Reade told her about the alleged assault within a few years of the incident, in the mid-1990s, and a newly surfaced video from 1993 appears to feature Reade's mother calling into "Larry King Live" to seek advice around the time of the alleged assault about how to handle "problems" her daughter had while working for a prominent US senator. Reade told CNN that she is certain the voice in the video belongs to her mother, Jeanette Altimus, who died a few years ago.

The Washington Post interviewed Reade's brother, Collin Moulton, 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.'"

Moulton later told CNN in a text message that Reade told him in the early 1990s that she had been asked to bring Biden his gym bag, and that in a private setting, he had cornered her against the wall and put his hands under her clothes.

Reade has said that she complained to multiple colleagues in the office about interactions with Biden that made her uncomfortable, but not about the alleged assault. Reade has also said that she filed a complaint with a personnel office on Capitol Hill at the time, but that she does not have a copy of it. It is unclear what kind of complaint -- and at what office -- Reade may have filed.

Biden’s Senate papers

Pressure has mounted on Biden to release his papers from his Senate days, which some say could shed light on the allegation. Those papers are at the University of Delaware and will not be made publicly available until two years after Biden leaves public life.

The university said this week it is still curating the collection of documents, a process expected to last into the spring of 2021. Therefore, a university spokesperson said Thursday, it cannot identify what documents and files can be found in the collection.

Biden says his papers at the university do not contain personnel files. But, he said, personnel files from the Senate during those days would be kept 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. If there was ever any such complaint, the record will be there," Biden said.

Biden also said on MSNBC that the his papers at the University of Delaware will remain sealed because they could become political "fodder" during his presidential campaign.

"The idea that they would all be made public while I was running for office can be taken out of context," Biden said. He added that the documents would cover topics like meetings with foreign heads of state.

Asked whether he would release all complaints against him, Biden said, "I'm prepared to do that," and that to the best of his knowledge there are no claims of sexual misconduct on his part.

Marianne Baker, who was Biden's executive assistant in the 1980s and 1990s when Biden was a senator, also previously said in a statement provided through the Biden campaign that she was never aware of any reports of inappropriate conduct, including from Reade.

"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."

Dennis Toner, who was Biden's deputy chief of staff at the time and one of the people Reade said she had discussed her complaints with, told CNN in an interview on Thursday that he had no recollection of Reade or any conversation related to sexual harassment allegations.

“I clearly would remember if we -- that is, if Tara and myself -- had any kind of conversation regarding sexual harassment allegations, let alone something involving Sen. Biden. It would stick in my mind. It would be burned in my mind,” Toner said. “I don’t understand it.”