Joe Biden finally went on the record Friday denying he sexually assaulted Tara Reade. It took 39 days and multiple media appearances before he finally addressed the allegation in an official statement and during a live interview with MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Biden had over a month to get his story straight, but his response still left a lot to be desired.
Biden’s decision to address the allegations on Morning Joe was likely strategic, as the hosts of the program have been vocal about defending Democrats accused of sexual harassment and assault. Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough reportedly helped Mark Halperin rehabilitate his image after he was accused of groping multiple women. Mika also publicly supported Tom Brokaw, Sen. Al Franken and fellow MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews after claims they had engaged in sexual misconduct. Morning Joe was also one of the few shows on cable news that tried to resist the urge to reflexively believe the female accusers of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Mika fell short in some places during the interview. Between the time that Reade made her allegation on a podcast and Biden’s MSNBC interview, four individuals came forward to say they remembered being told about the assault by Reade. An old video clip from Larry King Live showed Reade’s mother calling in about trouble her daughter was having with a senator. Mika did not bring up any of these contemporaneous accounts during her interview with Biden. Instead, she relied on the New York Times investigation of Reade’s claim, in which other former Senate staffers who worked for Biden at that time say they never heard of any complaint.
However, if Biden was expecting a pure softball interview, he did not get one. Despite admitting that she personally respects and admires the former VP, Mika pressed him hard on several key issues surrounding Reade’s accusation.
Biden was challenged repeatedly, for example, on his skittishness about releasing documents from his time in the Senate, many of which are being held by the University of Delaware until after he leaves public life. Biden claimed any personnel files, which would include official complaints against him, would be contained in the National Archives, not at the university. However, the UD documents would contain things like interoffice communications; Biden’s former staffers may have interacted with one another in memos or emails about Reade’s accusation. Such interactions, if they exist, would obviously bolster Reade’s claims and would mean the former staffers who claim to know nothing are lying.
‘Ted Kaufman took notes when I spoke with him,’ Reade said recently, referring to her supervisor. ‘He’s now denying that we ever had the meeting, and I watched him take notes. Those notes would be in my personnel file.’
In addition to claiming the UD files wouldn’t contain any personnel complaints, Biden also fretted that releasing those documents could hurt his campaign, which is the epitome of saying the quiet part out loud:
‘The fact is, that there’s a lot of things that of speeches I’ve made, positions I’ve taken, interviews that I did overseas with people, all of those things relating to my job. And the idea that they would be made public and the fact while I was running for public office, they could be really taken out of context. The papers are position papers, they are documents that existed and that 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…’
Setting aside the political implications of this statement, isn’t it possible for the University of Delaware or an independent party to do a review of the documents for anything related to Reade rather than releasing the entire lot? Mika wondered this too, asking, ‘Why not approve a search of her name in those records?’ Biden confusedly replied, ‘A search of her name?’
Then there’s the issue of Biden’s claim that ‘the National Archives is where the records are kept at what was then called the Office of Fair Employment Practices.’ Biden said in his official statement and repeated on MSNBC that he would be happy to release those records and that he is ‘confident’ that no complaint against him would be found. According to Nicole Einbinder, an investigative reporter with Business Insider, the National Archives does not hold records from the Office of Fair Employment Practices. Rather, these records are mandated to be closed for 50 years by way of a Senate resolution.
‘If Reade’s complaint was filed to the Office of Fair Employment Practices, the record will remain closed until 2043 — more than two decades from now,’ Einbinder explained.
Perhaps the most damning part of Biden’s interview, however, was his shameless moving of the goalposts on whether or not to believe women who share allegations of sexual misconduct. As Mika pointed out, Biden said during the Kavanaugh saga that Dr Christine Blasey Ford ‘should be given the benefit of the doubt’ and ‘you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real.’ Fellow members of the Democratic party, including many who have endorsed him or who are potential vice president picks, have stated unequivocally that women should automatically be believed. Biden opted for a different interpretation during his MSNBC interview:
‘I said from the beginning, taking women’s claims seriously. Vet it. Look into it. That’s true in this case as well. Women have a right to be heard. The press should investigate claims they make. I uphold that principle. In the end, the truth is what matters.’
The Democratic standard was never that women’s claims need to be heard and then investigated; it was that they should be assumed to be true. If Biden’s newfound explanation were correct, Dr Ford’s allegation, which had numerous inconsistencies and far less corroborative evidence than Reade’s, would have never formed the basis for cries that Kavanaugh needed to remove himself from the nomination process or be driven from public life. Biden merely took the Democrats’ clear-as-day standard and warped it to avoid appearing hypocritical.
Biden may have hoped his MSNBC appearance and public statement would put this issue to bed, but the reality is that Reade’s claim is far more credible than many of the others seized on and used to destroy lives and careers during the #MeToo movement. This is not going away, as much as the #IBelieveBiden crowd wants it to: the former vice president should authorize the release of any records related to his time in the Senate that would relate to Reade’s accusation.