Former Vice President Joe Biden personally addressed allegations that he sexually assaulted a Senate aide for the first time Friday morning, in a statement posted to his Medium account and a subsequent sit-down interview with MSNBC’s Morning Joe talk show.
“It is not true,” he said. “I’m saying unequivocally it never, never happened.”
While his campaign has been denying the allegations for weeks, it was the first time the presumptive Democratic nominee for president talked about the claims made by his former aide, Tara Reade, publicly.
In March, Reade accused her former boss of forcing her against a wall and penetrating her with his fingers in 1993, when he was a senator representing Delaware. The former staffer had earlier claimed that Biden made her uncomfortable with unwanted touches and comments, but had not spoken publicly about the alleged assault until this year.
Reade’s allegations, first made on political commentator Kate Halper’s podcast, received scant press initially, but as elements of her story have been corroborated by family and friends, the claims have become impossible for the Democratic Party and Biden’s campaign to ignore.
In his written statement on Medium, Biden led by acknowledging that April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The longtime politician championed the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which marked the first federal legislation acknowledging domestic violence and sexual assault crimes. Interviewed by Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski, Biden was pressed about his bona fides as a supporter of women’s rights.
Biden said all women had a right to be heard when they come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and violence. But he insisted that in his case, Reade is not telling the truth.
“She has a right to say whatever she wants to say,” Biden responded. “But I have a right to say, ‘Look at the facts,’ and ‘it’s just not true.’” He pointed to inconsistencies in her story.
As the New York Times notes, Biden’s silence over the last two months has frustrated some members of his party. As multiple outlets have reported, his campaign has publicly denied the allegations, and privately released talking points to other Democrats advising them to point to a recent New York Times investigation into Reade’s story that it falsely characterized as concluding her allegations were “not credible.”
Though the campaign is eager to move on to other matters—like the highly-anticipated selection of Biden’s running mate—the conversation around Reade’s claims will likely continue. One issue that arose in Biden’s Morning Joe interview was whether the 1993 incident had been reported. As ABC News’ Mary Bruce wrote on Twitter Friday morning, Reade said she filed a complaint to the Senate personnel office in 1993 saying he “made her feel uncomfortable,” but did not mention the alleged assault. During his interview, Biden called on any documentation filed to the United States Senate to be released, saying those files would be housed in the National Archives.
But pressed on his Senate papers, currently archived at the University of Delaware, Biden said he would not release those documents. In his Medium post, Biden insisted no personnel files would be among his files at the University, but speeches and policy papers he said could be taken out of context.
Throughout the last two weeks, prominent Democratic party leaders have been vocal about their continued support for Biden, pointing to his long record as a public official. Among the supporters were potential running mates Sen. Kamala Harris and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
“I know Joe Biden and I think he’s telling the truth and that this did not happen,” Abrams said earlier this week.
Harris, speaking on the topic earlier in April, said she could “only speak to the Joe Biden I know” and pointed back to his “lifelong” advocacy “in terms of stopping violence against women.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi offered Biden her endorsement Thursday, saying she had “complete respect for the whole #MeToo movement,” while adding, “there is also due process.”
“Joe Biden is Joe Biden,” she said.
Biden even found a surprising ally in President Donald Trump on Thursday, even as members of his party attempted to use the sexual assault claims as political leverage, demanding the release of his University of Delaware files.
“I think he should respond. It could be false allegations, I know all about false accusations,” Trump said, before Biden made his public statements. “I’ve been falsely charged numerous times. There’s such a thing.”
Trump has been accused by about two dozen women about various kinds of sexual abuse—from harassment to rape. He has denied all allegations.
While Biden was clear in his denials of the assault, he said he didn’t understand why Reade would come forward with a false claim.
“I don’t know why she is saying this,” Biden told Brzezinski, “But I’m not going to go in and question her motive. I’m not going to attack her.”