Without a doubt, women who level sexual assault allegations against powerful men are often subjected to character assassination and smears.
However, evaluating the credibility of a person who alleges that a presidential candidate committed a grievous act of criminal violence is not the same as ‘smearing’ that person.
I’m not interested in smearing Tara Reade, who claims to have been raped by Joe Biden. For one thing, I have no particular affinity for Biden. You can go check my archive at The Spectator and elsewhere for numerous examples of articles in which I harshly criticize Biden, especially for his own pattern of deception as it relates to the circumstances of his 2002 Iraq War vote. I’ll also fully grant that Biden’s past rhetoric on the subject of sexual assault — ‘women should be believed’, he said in January 2018 — means that at various points he has endorsed the facile and untenable standard whereby we must all presumptively ‘believe’ any woman who makes an allegation, no matter how outlandish or unsubstantiated.
But we need not look to Joe Biden as a model of logical consistency. The charges against him should be evaluated as dispassionately as possible, even if he hasn’t always extended that offer to others. The actual truth of this allegation — as in, whether a preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion that Biden did corner Tara Reade in a Senate hallway in 1993 and digitally rape her — seems to have almost become a second or third-order concern. Almost immediately after Reade began publicizing the latest version of her story on March 25, online commentary came to be dominated by debates over whether the ‘Believe Women’ cliche propounded by Democratic party officials was being equally applied. Over and over again the precedent of Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh was invoked. Certainly, many prominent Democrats adopted such credulous slogans during the Kavanaugh saga, which has now come back to haunt them as the nation litigates another woman’s sexual assault allegation against the presumed Democratic presidential nominee.
But there’s a limit to how much these sideshow ‘double standard’ arguments can be emphasized. At a certain point, it becomes necessary to shift focus and instead assess the charges themselves, given how severe they are. Rape is a grave crime, obviously, and if a presidential candidate is accused of committing rape then it’s worth ascertaining to the greatest extent possible whether the accusation has merit.
In that spirit, I am not accusing Tara Reade of consciously lying. I can’t know her mental state. I don’t wish to impugn her character. I don’t particularly care about the weird blog posts she has written about Vladimir Putin — despite the big fuss predictably made about those. But as a purely empirical matter, it has to be said: Reade’s claims have serious credibility problems. For one thing, they are flatly contradicted by her own previous claims. And the notion that her story has been ‘corroborated’ to any minimal degree of satisfaction is not accurate.
To begin: in her first public interview claiming that she was raped, published March 25 on Katie Halper’s podcast, Reade said she had only ever spoken about the rape to two members of her immediately family (her brother and mother) as well as one friend — for a total of three people. From the podcast transcript:
KH: And of course it’s possible that there are other people like you and they…didn’t [talk about it], I mean, you only shared it with him and your mom and your friend. Right?
TR: And my brother, yeah, my family. Yeah, my immediate family. But…that incident I never shared [except to immediate family and a friend]. I was horrified.
Then, over a month later on April 27, Business Insider suddenly published the account of an additional person Reade is purported to have told about the rape: her former neighbor, Lynda LaCasse, who claims that Reade told her about an incident involving Biden two or three years after the fact, in 1995 or 1996. The account received widespread attention because it was presented as incontrovertible ‘corroboration’, even though LaCasse was omitted from the original list of people Reade claimed she had told about the rape.
A supplementary interview published by Business Insider contains the following exchange between LaCasse and reporter Rich McHugh:
RM: When did this come on your radar again?
LL: Just recently. Tara called me and said, ‘Oh my gosh, this Joe Biden thing is coming up again.’ I said, ‘Oh my God, that.’ I had forgotten about it.
Memory is a complicated subject. But it seems a bit odd to ‘forget’ about being told by a friend that they had been backed into a wall and raped by a prominent US senator — who later went on to become vice president for eight years, and then run for president again. In her interview with McHugh, LaCasse admits that she ‘didn’t realize it was such a huge thing’. Even if we accept that LaCasse did somehow forget about being told of this shocking crime, reliable ‘corroboration’ would still require LaCasse to have independently confirmed her account to a neutral source, without the prior involvement of Reade. Instead, LaCasse says that Reade called her at some point recently, just before LaCasse decided on ‘coming forward’, and expressed a ‘need’ for her to provide public corroboration:
RM: When did you and Tara talk? Did she ask you to come forward? Walk me through the process of that.
LL: Well, you know, I live a kind of a quiet life. So I didn’t really even think about coming forward. And I didn’t really want to. But if she needed me to, then I thought, well, I guess I will. I have a really drama-free life. And so I didn’t want to bring a bunch of stuff on myself, and I loved Tara to death. But she has some drama.
A few days later, LaCasse appeared for an additional interview, this time with Democracy Now, after Biden publicly addressed the allegation for the first time on MSNBC. ‘You know, I saw him on Morning Joe this morning, and he looks very believable, too,’ LaCasse said of Biden. ‘But I’m hearing this today, and I heard Tara a long time ago telling me that.’
Does that sound like a person confident in the belief that her friend had been raped? Draw your own conclusions.
As far as the three people who were originally claimed to be corroborators; there are actually only two available for inquiry. One, Reade’s mother, died in 2016. Much has been made about a tape found of a woman, whom Reade identifies as her mother, calling into CNN’s Larry King Live in August 1993 during a show dedicated to issues around workplace culture in Washington. (According to personnel documents produced by Reade, she was officially terminated from Biden’s office on August 6, 1993. The Larry King episode aired on August 11, 1993.) The woman on the phone says only that her daughter (likely Reade) had been unable to get an airing for her office ‘problems’, so nothing about any alleged rape is corroborated by this old footage. Rather, the woman says her daughter had declined to take any further action in publicizing these ‘problems’ out of ‘respect’ for the senator she had just ceased working for.
The second purported corroborator is a ‘friend’ of Reade’s whose name has still not been published, but who has given numerous media interviews. This anonymous person claims that Reade called her in 1993 and contemporaneously told her about an incident involving Biden. Specifically in terms of the rape allegation, though, this person said in an interview that she repressed ‘on purpose’ the memory of Reade telling her about it. ‘I haven’t made a point to try to remember it,’ the person said. What this person appears to be ‘corroborating’ is that Reade told her something about a negative experience working in Biden’s office, but not about any alleged rape. While the friend says she didn’t ‘commit to memory’ being told about the rape, she does have vivid memories of other relevant 1993 events, namely being told by Reade about the workplace struggles she purportedly encountered in Biden’s office. Last year, back when Reade was telling a much different version of the story, a similarly anonymous ‘corroborator’ told Vox’s Laura McGann that Biden did not sexually assault Reade. ‘[Biden] never tried to kiss her directly. He never went for one of those touches. It was one of those, “sorry you took it that way”. I know that is very hard to explain,’ the anonymous person is quoted as saying last year, about Reade’s interactions with Biden.
The third claimed corroborator is Collin Moulton, a comedian and Reade’s brother, whose account has varied. According to the Washington Post, Moulton initially told a reporter that ‘he heard a different story that did not involve sexual assault’. Then several days later the brother ‘texted to say he remembered hearing Biden put his hand “under her clothes”.’ But even in this swiftly revised account, no mention of an assault or rape is made. At some point prior to his ‘clarification’, the brother conferred with Nathan Robinson, editor of the small left-wing journal Current Affairs and an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter, who was one of the most vehement early promoters of Reade’s story. Robinson expressed hope that the rape allegation would force Biden out of the presidential race and revive Sanders’s faltering campaign. On top of that, whether Moulton legitimately constitutes any kind of corroborating source in the first place is dubious, given that Reade told Vox last year that there were only two potential corroborating sources: the anonymous friend, and her deceased mother. The brother was added much later.
Reade — an aspiring novelist, a poet, and a trained actor — first started publicly recounting her allegedly negative experience with Biden in April 2019. At that time, she wrote a Medium post entitled, ‘A Girl Walks into the Senate…’ The post was subsequently reproduced on the website of the Union, a newspaper based in Nevada County, California which had earlier interviewed Reade for a separate news article. In that separate news article, Reade is reported to have said of her interactions with Biden that ‘she didn’t consider the acts toward her sexualization’. (The article also quotes an anonymous confidant who ‘corroborated’ this earlier non-sexualized version of Reade’s story, in much the same manner as the anonymous confidant who allegedly ‘corroborated’ the newer, graphically sexualized version of the story.) Reade wrote in the first-person column that her experience with Biden ‘is not a story about sexual misconduct’. She spent much of 2019 and 2020 promoting the Medium post on social media, tweeting the link at innumerable celebrities, politicians, pundits, and journalists. Then on March 24, 2020, in the same 24-hour period as she came forward with a graphic new rape allegation, Reade retroactively edited the Medium post to comport with the heavily revised version of the story she was telling.
Reade has repeatedly claimed that she was ‘shut down’ and ‘silenced’ by the media and prevented from telling the full account of Biden raping her. But she had in fact spoken extensively to major media organizations in 2019, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, and AP, about the nature of her interactions with Biden. In these interviews, however, Reade said nothing about any rape — instead she explicitly absolved Biden of sexual misconduct, just as she had in the self-written Medium post. If what she has been saying since March 25 about the rape allegation is true, why did Reade tell the national media a different story in numerous conversations with them last year? For example, the Washington Post:
‘In the Post interview last year, she laid more blame with Biden’s staff for “bullying” her than with Biden.’
“This is what I want to emphasize: it’s not him. It’s the people around him who keep covering for him,” Reade said, adding later, “For instance, he should have known what was happening to me… Looking back now, that’s my criticism. Maybe he could have been a little more in touch with his own staff.’
Reade also told AP in 2019: ‘I wasn’t scared of him, that he was going to take me in a room or anything. It wasn’t that kind of vibe.’ And she reiterated to Vox that her story was not one of ‘sexual misconduct’.
It should go without saying that sexual assault victims need not be perfectly consistent, or have a pristinely unblemished personal history, in order to be telling the truth. Sometimes they may even lie about what they experienced, due to any number of pressures or traumas. It’s not uncommon for accounts of abuse, assault, or rape to be revealed incrementally over time in fragments, given a variety of extenuating circumstances. However, Reade had long billed herself as a trained expert in the field of domestic violence law. In a Summer 2009 edition of Lawyer, a publication of the Seattle University School of Law — from which Reade graduated with a J.D. in 2004 — it is claimed that Reade ‘testifies in criminal cases as an expert witness about domestic violence’ and had been hired as a ‘victim advocate’ in the King County, Washington prosecutor’s office. Prof Dave Boerner, whom Reade cited as a supportive influence in the 2009 article, told me he has no recollection of her. But the prosecutor’s office did confirm to me that Reade, then going by the name Alexandra McCabe, was employed as a victim advocate between August 9, 1999 and October 20, 2000. On her résumé, Reade also states that she once worked as a ‘Legal/Community Services Manager’ for the Snohomish County Center for Battered Women, in Everett, Washington. As recently as January 2019, an individual named Tara McCabe was described by Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine M. Pacioni as a ‘domestic violence expert’ who ‘provided critical testimony which aided the jury’s understanding as to why victims of domestic violence recant, minimize, and frequently stay in abusive relationships’.
As such, Reade presumably had far more familiarity with the legal nuances of sexual assault reporting practices than the average victim. And she would presumably be aware of the damage it would do to her credibility to repeatedly change her allegations. ‘Those are the kinds of concerns someone would have evaluating this,’ Boerner, the Seattle University professor, told me.
Kelly Klett, an attorney in Aptos Hills, California, said Reade rented a room at her boarding house for a short period beginning in May or June of 2018. Klett worked for the Santa Clara County government for 27 years and now operates a nonprofit animal rescue sanctuary. In private practice, she said she has represented pro bono many women dealing with domestic violence. ‘If I believed the story, and there was merit, and something needed to be exposed, I would be the person who would expose it,’ Klett told me of Reade’s allegation.
Upon arrival, Klett recalled, Reade portrayed herself as a former staffer for Joe Biden with experience helping animals in need, and claimed she was studying for the Bar exam (after having graduated with a law degree approximately 15 years earlier.) Klett said she felt an affinity for Reade, and lent her Bar exam study books. But over the course of the several months she occupied the room, Klett said she never saw Reade studying for the exam; Reade eventually began to ask for additional financial assistance, and, in Klett’s mind, misrepresent her circumstances in various ways. ‘I just felt like she was starting to manipulate and use me,’ Klett said. After a while, Klett gradually came to believe it would be better for Reade to move out, and Reade eventually did so soon on her own accord, claiming she found more affordable accommodations elsewhere. (Klett said the study books, valued in the hundreds of dollars, were never returned.)
Then after Reade began telling the initial non-sexualized version of her Biden story in April 2019, Klett said she received a call from her out of the blue. ‘I guess by now you’ve seen the complaint I’ve made against Joe Biden,’ Klett recalled Reade saying. As she told Klett over the phone about the non-sexualized version of her allegations — which at the time involved only allegedly inappropriate non-sexual touching by Biden — Klett said she inferred that Reade ‘was planting a story, hoping that I would be someone who would corroborate her. She left me feeling like she’s manipulating me, to drag me into this, to be some corroboration of her story — which I can’t corroborate and don’t believe.’
Klett added: ‘And trust me, I believe women. If I thought for one minute that happened to her, I would come out and support her on it. But she’s a serious manipulator. I think that she exaggerates and lies.’ When Reade eventually started telling the newly graphic, sexualized version of the story on March 25, Klett told me her reaction was ‘incredulous’. Reade had previously heralded her experience working for Biden, Klett recalled, and made no mention of any rape or even discomfort, despite knowing Klett’s background in supporting domestic violence victims.
‘When I heard it, I kind of — I went “Oh God, I don’t want to get sucked into this”,’ Klett told me. ‘I didn’t want her using my identity as a nonprofit foundation and an attorney to substantiate her in any way.’ Klett was hesitant at first to speak publicly, but says she now feels a duty to give a public account of what she knows about Reade. ‘I think the most reprehensible thing to do is to make a false allegation against a man that didn’t occur,’ Klett said. ‘And I have to tell you, I feel like that’s what she’s doing. Because if I felt any other way, I wouldn’t even be talking to you — I would be taking her case.’
Another individual sharing insights on Reade’s background is Lynn Hummer, who operates Pregnant Mare Rescue, a small horse sanctuary in Aptos, California. Reade initially contacted Hummer in 2014 about a job, and then began volunteering at the sanctuary. Like Klett, Hummer said she initially felt sympathy for Reade. She would help her with small things, like buying Reade coffee when she said she had no money. But over time Hummer’s view changed. ‘From my experience, knowing this woman for two years,’ she said, ‘I felt duped, stolen from, manipulated, and lied to. I feel it’s my obligation as a citizen to come forth with what I know to be the truth.’
Reade began to make bizarre requests, Hummer said, such as asking to hide a car on the farm. Eventually, to her mind, it developed into a pattern. ‘Nothing ever rang true with her after a while,’ Hummer said. ‘What she would put forth originally, then would fall apart in a matter of time. So that was very deceitful.’ Things boiled over for Hummer when Reade charged the rescue’s nonprofit with an expensive veterinarian’s bill for the horse Reade was caring for, and which Hummer had given her as an act of charity. (Reade pledged in writing to pay Hummer back, but never did, Hummer said.)
Hummer added that it always appeared as though Reade was attempting to ‘drum up a scheme.’ In a March 30, 2016 message provided to me by Hummer, Reade wrote that a ‘friend’ had set up a GoFundMe page on her behalf so that she can ‘remain confidential’, with the money going to Reade. The GoFundMe was still active as of April 28 but has since been taken down, after raising $3,550.
Klett and Hummer have also spoken to Politico. Both women insist they have no political motivations.
Carie Broecker — who once worked with Reade at the Animal Friends Rescue Project in Pacific Grove, California and told me she considered her a ‘friend’ — told another reporter on May 4 that Reade ‘just has her own relationship with the truth. And she probably believes what she says, but things get twisted and misinterpreted. And we just saw that over and over again in my time with her.’ (I confirmed the authenticity of her comments to the other reporter.) Broecker said there were legal issues which coincided with Reade’s departure from the animal rescue organization, but she couldn’t discuss them. ‘Over and over again, she was very self-serving, she could easily twist things — she was manipulative,’ Broecker said.
Broecker said she remembers hearing Reade mention her time working for Biden, but ‘she did not tell me that full story. She never went into anything like that about it.’ Asked what her reaction was when she heard Reade’s latest allegations, Broecker said, ‘What I feel like is, this has probably snowballed beyond anything she ever thought that it would be.’ Broecker added: ‘I also feel like this has now gone beyond her control. How to back out of it, how to stop at this point — I feel like she’s probably in over her head.’
In the March 25 podcast interview with Katie Halper, Reade said she had a boyfriend at the time of the alleged rape by Biden. Years later, in 2009, Reade — then writing under the name Alexandra McCabe — recounted a story of that boyfriend, referred to as ‘Tate’, allegedly ‘pleading’ with her to leave Washington, DC and go with him to the Midwest, where ‘Tate’ intended to work for an unnamed congressman. Nowhere in this 2009 essay is any hint of Biden’s alleged misconduct mentioned; rather, Reade actually cites her brief tenure working for Biden as a credential to demonstrate why she is an authoritative commentator on issues around domestic violence, given Biden’s authorship of the Violence Against Women Act. (A copy of her résumé also lists her brief tenure working in Biden’s office, one of many times in the past that Reade has favorably cited as a reference someone she would later accuse of rape). Reade subsequently gave a variety of different explanations for why she left Washington, DC in 1993 — such as being fired or forced to resign from Biden’s office, being denied future employment on Capitol Hill, being offered a new job in California, being pleaded with by her ex-husband to leave and join him in the Midwest, or deciding to leave on her own volition for ideological reasons.
But in terms of the core allegation, did Reade contemporaneously tell her then-boyfriend, and later husband, and later ex-husband about the alleged rape? For one thing, his name is not ‘Tate’ — it’s Theodore ‘Ted’ Dronen. He previously worked as a legislative assistant for former Sen. Kent Conrad and Rep. Earl Pomeroy, both of North Dakota — according to a LinkedIn profile that has since been taken down — and now runs a technology services business in California. In her writings, Reade accuses ‘Tate’ of extreme acts of sociopathic violence, including killing housepets, assaulting babies, and being investigated by the FBI for multiple murders. Perhaps not surprisingly, Dronen has not been responding to press inquiries. According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, he filed for divorce from Reade in 1996. In an excerpt of a court document, Dronen says that Reade had told her about issues involving ‘sexual harassment’ in Biden’s office, but does not implicate Biden personally or make any mention of assault or rape.
The list of people that Reade claims to have been abused by is relatively long. In one of her many prolific Medium posts, Reade says she was physically abused by her deceased father. According to Lynn Hummer, Reade had also spoken of abuse by someone she once described as her ‘partner’ and ‘boyfriend’, Edward Walker. Walker, under the name Frankie Knight, co-hosted a soul music radio show with Reade called Soul Vibes on KNRY in Santa Cruz beginning in 2009. Reade said they also lived together. In 2011, charges were filed against an Edward Franklin Walker in Santa Cruz Superior Court for corporal injury and battery; he represented himself pro se, according to someone familiar with the proceedings. Walker could not be reached for comment. And in 2012, Reade filed a legal complaint against a woman named Krystal Rojas. Lynn Hummer told me Rojas is an itinerant who has long struggled with drug addiction; Hummer allowed Rojas to live in her house at one point. Rojas could not be reached for comment.
After Reade initially went public in April 2019 with the non-sexualized version of her story, some Democratic partisans and pundits seized upon the strange blog posts she had written idolizing Putin to dismiss her account. Clearly this bothered Reade, and understandably so. There is no reason at all to believe she’s somehow operating on behalf of Russia, and to even suggest that is preposterous. Nevertheless, Reade’s extremely effusive Twitter presence does provide some insights into her political thinking. After Biden won the primaries in Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Washington State, and Idaho on March 10, Reade tweeted about the ‘rage’ she felt ‘at watching the oligarchs win over millions of peoples rally call [sic] for systematic change’. She continued, ‘Scorch. The. Fucking Earth. Rage. Fuck unity.’ and then ended the tweet with two pro-Bernie hashtags. A week before, after Biden had won a spate of victories on Super Tuesday, Reade tweeted something curious at Intercept editor Ryan Grim:
Katie Halper, on whose podcast Reade initially made the assault allegation, is a longtime Bernie supporter — having herself appeared on the official Sanders campaign podcast, in addition to other pro-Bernie advocacy. Halper publicized Reade’s allegations at a time in late March when the Sanders campaign was just two weeks away from being suspended. In order for Sanders’s hopes for the nomination to be revived, something truly remarkable would have needed to happen — such as, theoretically, a bombshell rape allegation sinking Biden and forcing him out of the race. On March 24, within hours of the new accusation coming to light, Reade tweeted, ‘Please stay in Bernie’ along with a link to an Intercept article by Ryan Grim referencing her purported ‘#MeToo allegation’.
Nothing about Halper or Reade’s political preferences necessarily invalidates the rape claim, and Halper wasn’t necessarily motivated by pure pro-Bernie zeal in publicizing the interview. But it’s context worth taking into account, because that’s what we must do when assessing the totality of the situation. At the time of writing, the latest developments include that Reade was charged with check fraud in San Luis Obispo County on August 2, 1993 — just four days before she was officially terminated by Biden’s office, and nine days before her mother apparently called Larry King to report her daughter’s unspecified ‘problems’. More court records have also trickled out. In one 1997 filing, Reade cites a doctor’s evaluation asserting that her ‘personality characteristics predispose her to dramatically respond to a variety of situations’. According to the doctor, Robert Owen, this predisposition inhibited Reade from making ‘a realistic assessment’ of whether Ted Dronen, the ex-husband, posed a physical threat to their then-young child.
In the past several weeks, Reade has been in high demand. She canceled at least two scheduled TV interviews, one with Chris Wallace of Fox News and the other with Don Lemon of CNN. Then on May 8 came an online video interview with Megyn Kelly, produced by Rich McHugh — the same reporter who had previously coordinated with Reade to locate the allegedly ‘corroborating’ source, Lynda LaCasse. In this interview, Reade reiterated her demand for Biden to drop out of the race. She also added a brand new detail, never before disclosed in earlier interviews on the subject, alleging that Biden said to her, ‘I want to fuck you.’ (Why this incredibly salacious detail had been omitted from Reade’s many previous interviews is an open question.)
Through her new lawyer, Douglas Wigdor, Reade declined an interview request. ‘She isn’t doing any interviews at this time,’ he said. Instead he gave us the following statement:
‘Despite the author’s protestation to the contrary, this reporting (and that of many others) does, most unfortunately, amount to character assassination and smears. Most of the so-called information would never be admitted in the court of law because the probative value of such “evidence” is close to nil. Sadly, these attacks will have a chilling effect on other survivors grappling with the prospect of coming forward.
‘What I don’t seem to understand, however, is how Ms Reade continuously gets attacked, even after sitting for multiple interviews and answering all of the questions put to her, while the media seems to accept Biden’s blanket denial of “it never happened” and his refusal to inspect his records housed at the University of Delaware. Journalists seem to now believe that they have taken over the role of judge and jury in determining the truth and veracity of Ms Reade while the Democratic National Committee shows no interest in conducting an independent and non-partisan investigation.
‘As Ms Reade’s counsel, we are exploring next steps in an effort to get to the truth. I expect that there will be more to share in the days ahead.’
We can never know with total certainty whether Joe Biden, for the first and only time in his life as far as anyone is aware, committed rape by cornering Tara Reade in a public Senate hallway in 1993 and forcibly penetrating her with his fingers. However, total certainty is generally not the standard by which we judge the credibility of claims.