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Sexual assault allegation by former Biden Senate aide emerges in campaign, draws denial

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign called Tara Reade’s accusations false. “It is untrue. This absolutely did not happen.”
Joe Biden’s presidential campaign called Tara Reade’s accusations false. “It is untrue. This absolutely did not happen.” (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)
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A California woman who last year said Joe Biden touched her neck and shoulders when she worked in his Senate office in 1993 is now accusing him of sexually assaulting her that year in a semiprivate area of the Capitol complex, an allegation the Biden campaign strongly denies.

The Washington Post has been examining Tara Reade’s allegation over the past three weeks, since she said on a podcast that Biden had pinned her against a wall, reached under her skirt and pushed his fingers inside her. At the time, she was a 29-year-old staff assistant.

The Post has interviewed Reade on multiple occasions — both this year and last — as well as people she says she told of the assault claim and more than a half-dozen former staffers of Biden’s Senate office.

In interviews with The Post last year, Reade said that Biden had touched her neck and shoulders but did not mention the alleged assault or suggest there was more to the story. She faulted his staff, calling Biden “a male of his time, a very powerful senator, and he had people around saying it was okay.”

She acknowledged in more recent interviews that she twice voted for the Obama-Biden ticket, saying she strongly supported their political positions. Since January, Reade has been a vocal supporter of Biden’s former rival Bernie Sanders. She said political considerations played no role in her decision to raise the sexual assault allegation.

President Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, sought to inject Reade’s allegation into the presidential campaign on Saturday by accusing the media on Twitter of not covering it. After the New York Times published a story about Reade’s account Sunday morning, social media lit up as partisans either rushed to equate it to widely publicized claims against other powerful men or to point out ways in which hers is different.

The former vice president has been accused of unwanted hugging and other physical contact, but The Post found no other allegations against him as serious as Reade’s. More than a dozen women, by contrast, have accused Trump of forced kissing, groping or sexual assault, and he has been recorded on audio boasting about grabbing women between their legs.

On Thursday, Reade filed a complaint with D.C. police. She told The Post she did so because she is being harassed online and wanted law enforcement to be aware of her claim. A public record of the complaint does not name Biden but says Reade “disclosed that she was the victim of a sexual assault” in 1993.

Reade told The Post she gave police a long interview describing the alleged assault by Biden. The portion of the police report detailing her allegation is not public. Filing a false report is a crime punishable by up to 30 days in jail.

Reade, now 56, said in recent interviews that she was afraid to report the assault or talk about it publicly last year, when she accused Biden of unwanted touching in online posts and media interviews. In those accounts, she said she complained to supervisors about the alleged neck and shoulder contact and a request from a supervisor that she serve drinks at a reception. She said the supervisors later ostracized her and told her to look for another job.

“I didn’t have the courage to come forward” about the assault, Reade said. “I couldn’t get the words out. . . . As time has progressed, I felt stronger about speaking my truth. I realized I had to do this.”

Reade said she described the alleged assault soon after it happened to her mother, who died in 2016, and to a friend, a former intern for another lawmaker. In an interview, the friend corroborated Reade’s account of their conversation but declined to be named in this report.

In another recent interview, Reade’s brother, Collin Moulton, said she told him in 1993 that Biden had behaved inappropriately by touching her neck and shoulders. Their mother urged Reade to contact the police, Moulton said, adding that he felt “ashamed now for not being a better advocate” for his sister. Several days after that interview, he said in a text message that he recalled her telling him that Biden had put his hand “under her clothes.”

Reade said she told a therapist earlier this year about the alleged assault. The Post asked Reade for the therapist’s notes of that conversation, but she has not produced them.

Biden’s presidential campaign called Reade’s accusations false. “Vice President Biden has dedicated his public life to changing the culture and the laws around violence against women,” said Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager and communications director. “He authored and fought for the passage and reauthorization of the landmark Violence Against Women Act. He firmly believes that women have a right to be heard — and heard respectfully. Such claims should also be diligently reviewed by an independent press. What is clear about this claim: It is untrue. This absolutely did not happen.”

The campaign also released a statement attributed to Marianne Baker, who was an executive assistant in the office and one of the supervisors to whom Reade says she made a harassment complaint.

“In all my years working for Sen. Biden, I never once witnessed, or heard of, or received, any reports of inappropriate conduct, period — not from Ms. Reade, not from anyone,” Baker said. “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. 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.”

Baker did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Reade worked for Biden’s office from December 1992 to early August 1993, according to Senate records. She said that in addition to Baker, she complained about feeling uncomfortable — but not the alleged assault — to two other supervisors in the Senate office: Dennis Toner, deputy chief of staff; and Ted Kaufman, chief of staff. Toner and Kaufman said in interviews that they had no specific recollection of Reade and no memory of such a complaint.

“I would remember something like this if it ever came up,” said Toner, a Delaware-based consultant. “I think it’s an outrageous accusation that’s totally untrue.”

Kaufman said: “It never came up. And I sure would have remembered if it did.” Kaufman has no formal role on the campaign but remains a close confidant.

Reade initially oversaw a group of interns. Two recalled that Reade abruptly stopped overseeing them in April — just a few weeks after the interns arrived — but neither was aware of the circumstances that led to her departure. Reade stopped working in the office several months later.

The 2020 presidential campaign will be the first since the #MeToo movement in late 2017 began inspiring women to share stories of abuse by powerful men.

Near the end of the 2016 campaign, The Post uncovered a 2005 videotape in which Trump bragged that because of his fame he could grab women between the legs, comments he dismissed later as “locker-room banter.” In the days after that audio was published, about a dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct going back decades. Their stories ranged from Trump groping their breasts and buttocks to him kissing them without consent on the lips. Trump called the women liars. More recently, he has denied a New York writer’s allegation that he sexually assaulted her in a department store dressing room more than two decades ago.

Last spring, as Biden was preparing to formally enter the presidential race, about a half dozen women came forward with stories of unwanted touching or displays of affection. None alleged sexual assault.

Among them was Lucy Flores, who said that in 2014 the then-vice president touched and kissed the back of her head during her campaign for Nevada’s lieutenant governor.

Biden pledged to be “more respectful of people’s personal space.” But he joked about the criticism two days later, and he has remained physically affectionate during campaign events. where some supporters ask for hugs.

Flores’s story inspired Reade to offer her own account to her local newspaper, the Union, in Nevada County, Calif, Reade said. The details in that article matched the narrative Reade gave The Post the next day in a telephone interview.

She said in that interview, on April 4, 2019, that on at least three occasions Biden put his hands on her shoulders and the base of her neck. She also said she walked in on an argument between two staffers, in which one suggested that Reade was being asked to serve drinks at a reception because Biden thought she was pretty and liked her legs.

She said the supervisors she later complained to dismissed her concerns, told her to wear less provocative clothing and took away responsibilities before finally asking her to resign.

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.”

The Post last year published other accusations of unwanted touching by Biden but not Reade’s. A friend that she said she had told of the harassment did not respond last year to requests for comment. That friend — the same one who in recent days confirmed that Reade told her of the alleged assault — said she had no memory of receiving calls from The Post.

After Reade went public with her account of harassment, she faced a backlash on social media. Her effusive praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin — she described him in a Medium post in December 2018 as a “compassionate, caring, visionary leader” — led to attacks that she was seeking to advance Russian interests.

Reade told The Post she had gained admiration for Putin while doing research on Russia for a novel. She said she took down the Putin-related posts because of the attacks.

Throughout the rest of 2019, she tweeted dozens of times at several Democratic contenders and at least once at Trump, saying that Biden sexually harassed her when she worked in his Senate office years earlier.

“I don’t have an agenda other than I just wanted my story told,” said Reade, who has a law degree and was working part time assisting families with special-needs children when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

On Saturday, she retweeted Trump’s son’s admonishment of the news media with a comment: “Please Republicans do not use my assault for political gain. Help me pressure @cnn, @nbc, @wapo, @newyorker to question Joe Biden. Thank you”

Reade’s allegations gained traction among some supporters of Sanders, who quit the race last week amid mounting pressure as Biden swept most primary voting states. Reade said she only recently backed Sanders and previously leaned toward some of his Democratic rivals. She gave $5 through the ActBlue fundraising website to then-candidate Marianne Williamson in August 2019, public records show.

But since January, Reade has repeatedly plugged Sanders’s campaign while criticizing Biden on social media. A March 5 tweet called Biden “a misogynist pred” while touting a ticket led by Sanders with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as his running mate. “Tell Bernie to stay in! voters deserve to hear my silenced history w Biden,” Reade said on Twitter on March 22.

Two days later, the Intercept posted an article describing the alleged harassment and Reade’s appeals for help in January from the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, a project of the National Women’s Law Center that offers sexual harassment victims financial support and referrals to lawyers and public relations professionals. The Intercept story did not mention her assault allegations.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the fund said it does not offer financial assistance in every case. Uma Iyer, vice president for communications with the law center, said the group’s nonprofit status prohibits it from underwriting cases involving allegations against political candidates.

“In Ms. Reade’s situation our determination was based on the fact that her allegations were against a presidential candidate in an election year and primary season,” Iyer said. The group’s nonprofit designation, Iyer said, “mandates a strict and absolute prohibition on participating in electioneering or political activity, and we could not fund a public relations effort around these allegations without significant risk of running afoul of these strict legal rules.”

The day after the Intercept article posted, another media outlet, a podcast co-hosted by Sanders supporter Katie Halper, released an interview in which Reade described the alleged assault.

In the recent interviews with The Post, Reade said she could not remember exactly where in the Capitol complex she was when she met Biden to deliver a gym bag to him. She was wearing a skirt and no stockings because it was a warm day in April or May, she said.

“He put me up against the wall and took the bag,” she said. “He reached up underneath my skirt. . . . I remember two fingers. . . . It was such a nightmare.”

She said he asked, “Do you want to go somewhere else?” She said that when she pulled away, he said, “Come on, man, I thought you liked me,” then told her that she meant “nothing” before finally grabbing her shoulders and saying, “You’re okay.”

The friend who Reade said she told about the incident at the time had interned on Capitol Hill and was in college in Virginia at the time of the alleged assault.

“I still remember that she handed off the gym bag and then she was pinned up against the wall,” Reade’s friend said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because she feared online harassment and professional consequences. “His hands went under her skirt. . . . He pushed his fingers into her, not at her invitation. Not at her request. She was confused about why he thought it was okay to do that.”

Reade’s younger brother, Moulton, said she had told him parts of her experience with Biden but not the alleged sexual assault.

“I heard that there was a gym bag incident . . . and that he was inappropriate,” Moulton said. “I remember her telling me he said she was nothing to him.”

A few days after that interview, Moulton sent the text saying he wanted to clarify his remarks. He wrote that he recalled Reade telling him in the early 1990s that Biden had cornered her and put his hands under her clothes.

Another friend of Reade’s said that in 2006 or 2007 Reade told her Biden had touched her arm and behaved inappropriately. She had no other details, she said, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of concern she might face online attacks.

Reade said that in 1993 she filed a complaint with a congressional human resources or personnel office but did not remember the exact name. Her complaint dealt only with the alleged harassment, not the assault, she said.

The Post could find no record of the complaint, and Reade said she never received a copy. The Senate Office of Fair Employment Practices, which fielded complaints starting in 1992, was replaced under a 1995 law and is now called the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.

Biden staffers who might have been alerted to such a complaint said they do not recall hearing of one, and Biden’s official Senate papers were donated to the University of Delaware but remain sealed from the public.

In interviews with a half-dozen former Biden staffers who overlapped with Reade, many were hesitant to cast doubt on an individual woman’s account but said Reade’s story did not match their experience in a tightknit office with high-ranking female staffers.

None of those reached by The Post recalled witnessing Biden putting his hands on Reade or the request that she serve drinks.

“There was never anything like that that was ever a part of the culture of working on the Hill at that time for Biden,” said Melissa Lefko, who worked as a staff assistant in 1993. “There were plenty of other senators I could point in your direction as known for their sexual predatory behavior of female staffers. Biden was never, ever one of those senators. Never. Never.”

In Medium posts in January and one in April 2019, Reade said no one on Capitol Hill would hire her after she complained about Biden’s behavior and the request that she serve drinks. In late 2018, she wrote that she left Washington to pursue an acting and artistic career, turned off by what she called the U.S. government’s “xenophobia” toward Russia. In a 2009 essay that noted Biden’s work on the Violence Against Women Act, she discussed moving from Washington to the Midwest to be with a boyfriend.

She occasionally has tweeted positively about Biden, saying in 2017, “My old boss speaks truth. Listen” with a link to a BBC story about Biden calling for the tech industry to help fight cancer.

Reade told The Post in a recent interview that she tweeted support of him because she admired some things about Biden despite the alleged assault. “Here’s the person I admire, who stands for all I believe in,” she said. “At the same time, that’s what happened to me personally.”

Correction: This story as originally published misstated the language in a police report about Tara Reade’s complaint. That version of the story quoted the document as saying Reade “disclosed that she believes she was the victim of a sexual assault.” The document does not contain the words “she believes.” This version has been corrected.

Peter Hermann and David Weigel contributed to this report.