I wrote two weeks ago that those who take allegations of sexual harassment and assault seriously “cannot simply dismiss Reade’s claims out of hand,” adding, “I don’t think what Reade claimed happened, yet the evidence is murky.”
Reade said last year that Biden had touched her in ways that made her feel uncomfortable, but it was not until more recently that she alleged Biden had assaulted her in a Senate office building hallway, pushing his fingers inside her vagina. The Biden campaign has said the incident “absolutely did not happen.”
Since then, a few more data points have emerged that tip the balance of evidence some important degrees in Reade’s direction. They make it imperative that Biden address these allegations directly, rather than through a spokesman, and that the Biden campaign do its utmost to unearth whatever information may be contained in his Senate archives relevant to Reade’s claims.
The first piece of new information, although the least conclusive, involves a call that Reade’s late mother appears to have made to CNN’s Larry King during a program about the cutthroat nature of politics in Washington.
“My daughter has just left there, after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all. And the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it, out of respect for him.”
This is intriguing, but the vague reference to “problems” does not do much to strengthen Reade’s claim that Biden sexually assaulted her in a Senate office building hallway when she delivered a gym bag to him while working as a staff assistant in his office in 1993. If anything, the woman’s statement that her daughter decided not to go to the media “out of respect” for Biden is hard to square with the allegation that he assaulted her.
Far more concerning is Lynda LaCasse, a former neighbor of Reade’s who told Business Insider in an article published this week that she recalled Reade telling her in 1995 or 1996, when they were living at an apartment in California, that Biden had assaulted her. According to the article, “I remember her saying, here was this person that she was working for and she idolized him,” LaCasse said. “And he kind of put her up against a wall. And he put his hand up her skirt and he put his fingers inside her.”
Also speaking to Business Insider, Lorraine Sanchez, who worked with Reade in the office of a California state senator during that time period, said she recalled Reade telling her that “she had been sexually harassed by her former boss while she was in DC and as a result of her voicing her concerns to her supervisors, she was let go, fired.” Sanchez did not remember details of the alleged harassment or whether Reade named Biden.
The Sanchez recollection duplicates others who said they recalled Reade alleging harassment. It’s another indication that Reade was complaining about her treatment in Biden’s office at or shortly after the time of her work there, but it does not directly address the question of whether there was an actual assault, as opposed to less extreme conduct.
The statements by LaCasse are far more troubling. Her on-the-record remarks come in addition to an account by another friend of Reade’s, who declined to be named, that Reade told her about the assault at the time. Reade’s brother told The Post that she had told him that Biden behaved inappropriately by touching her neck and shoulders. But it was not until several days after the initial interview that he added in a text that Biden had put his hand “under her clothes.” The brother first told ABC that he had heard Reade’s account of the assault only this spring, then texted to “clarify” that she had told him that in 1993.
That another person has now come forward, without any apparent motive other than to support a friend — LaCasse told CNN she is a “very strong Democrat” who plans to vote for Biden — is a big deal.
It is also a mess — for the Biden campaign; for voters struggling to figure out what to make of these allegations; for those, including the women on Biden’s list of potential running mates, who have argued for taking such claims seriously. Biden has not been accused of any similar misconduct during his decades in public life. There are inconsistencies in Reade’s story, including her contention that she filed a complaint with congressional authorities. If she had, it would have automatically triggered an inquiry that would have been known to — and remembered by — Biden’s staff.
A definitive resolution is going to be hard to come by. But Biden needs to answer the legitimate questions about the allegations. More important, he needs to authorize and encourage the University of Delaware, the repository of his Senate papers, to do what is possible, even in the midst of the pandemic, to scour the available records for information about Reade’s short tenure.
There may well be no needle in the haystack — the material isn’t likely to include much in the way of personnel files — but it’s important to search anyway. Another nominee with another cloud over his head is the last thing this country needs.