This post began as an exploration of presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden’s positions on the issues. I imagined myself chatting with him while he was endeavoring to campaign from his basement.
But the charges of sexual assault against him by a former staffer, Tara Reade, are getting a good deal of media attention.
Biden was slow to respond, allowing former staffers to speak on his behalf. But Friday morning, he issued a statement, which you can read here.
He speaks of his pride in the role he played in developing the Violence Against Women Act, and then he says:
“In the 26 years since the law passed, the culture and perceptions have changed but we’re not done yet. It’s on us, and it’s on me as someone who wants to lead this country.
“I recognize my responsibility to be a voice, an advocate, and a leader for the change in culture that has begun but is nowhere near finished. So I want to address allegations by a former staffer that I engaged in misconduct 27 years ago.
“They aren’t true. This never happened.
“While the details of these allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault are complicated, two things are not complicated.
“One is that women deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and when they step forward they should be heard, not silenced.
“The second is that their stories should be subject to appropriate inquiry and scrutiny.
“Responsible news organizations should examine and evaluate the full and growing record of inconsistencies in her story, which has changed repeatedly in both small and big ways.”
He goes into detail about inconsistencies that I’ll cover shortly, and then he concludes:
“We have a lot of work to do. From confronting online harassment, abuse, and stalking, to ending the rape kit backlog, to addressing the deadly combination of guns and domestic violence.
“We need to protect and empower the most marginalized communities, including immigrant and indigenous women, trans women, and women of color.
“We need to make putting an end to gender-based violence in both the United States and around the world a top priority.
“I started my work over 25 years ago with the passage of the Violence Against Women Act. As president, I’m committed to finishing the job.”
I emphatically agree that all women who claim to have been sexually assaulted deserve a fair and respectful hearing and the presumption that they are telling the truth.
And then their stories must be fully vetted by impartial observers. I am questioning whether that is happening in this case.
Former Vice President Biden wasn’t my first choice as the Democratic nominee. I do worry about his age and health—but not about his mental acuity. I’ve watched him any number of times lately, and he seems totally with it and highly informed and sensible.
At a CNN Town Hall shortly before this abrupt end to the primaries, he was actually terrific on substance, performance, and connection with questioners.
Nor do I worry that he’s a sexual predator. I hadn’t thought I’d have to address the sexual assault charge against him in this post, but it seems to be gathering steam, and I see it as a dangerous, misguided attempt by the press to pursue a story without due diligence.
Keep in mind that Joe Biden was fully vetted by President Obama’s team before he was chosen to be Obama’s Vice President. He served as Vice President for 8 years without a whiff of scandal.
It seems inconceivable to me that the Republicans would not have found any “dirt” on Biden if such an issue had existed.
We do know that eight women, including Reade, complained last year that Biden had inappropriately kissed, hugged, or touched them.
According to The New York Times, he “acknowledged the women’s complaints about his conduct, saying his intentions were benign and promising to be “more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space.”
Biden is widely regarded for his warmth, toward both men and women. He has been a hugger, a touchy-feely kind of guy. At one time, that behavior was fully acceptable. It no longer is, and he understands that.
In his current statement, he says he will “continue to learn from women, to listen to women, to support women, and yes, to make sure women’s voices are heard.”
It’s worth noting that Tara Reade’s original 1993 complaint did not include sexual assault: she made that charge in March of this year and filed a police report in April.
I have seen Ari Melber and Chris Hayes of MSNBC, and New York Magazine writer Rebecca Traister all say the fact that an old friend (who says she’s voting for Biden) validated that Reade told her the story contemporaneously makes them take it very seriously.
In fact, it wasn’t contemporaneously, which means close enough in time so that memories are fresh. It was several years later. And Reade called the friend to apparently refresh her memory.
In addition, none of those I heard seems to have considered that a friend could be repeating a lie without realizing it.
But former prosecutor Michael J. Stern does explore this possibility in his compelling article in USA Today.
“The problem with statements from friends is that the information they recount is only as good as the information given to them.”
I am linking to Stern’s article and other sources that have persuaded me that Tara Reade is not telling the truth.
For those who don’t have the time to read through them, I’m quoting what I think are the most significant points.
First, Stern’s orientation: as a former sex crimes prosecutor, he writes:
“When women make allegations of sexual assault, my default response is to believe them. But as the news media have investigated Reade’s allegations, I’ve become increasingly skeptical.”
His reasons include the following:
—She has changed any number of details in her story a number of times, with “implausible explanations.”
Aside from the highly questionable one about changing what she says Biden did to her, she lied about losing her job.
She originally told The Union, a California newspaper, in 2019 that she refused Biden’s request to serve drinks at an event, and then “felt pushed out and left Biden’s employ,” according to The Union.
But she told The New York Times last month that she faced retaliation after filing a sexual harassment complaint with the Senate’s personnel office, and Biden’s chief of staff fired her.
To Stern, the disparity between those two assertions “raises questions about Reade’s credibility and account of events.”
—The three former Biden staffers whom she claimed to have told about the assault emphatically denied she did so.
“And they did not offer the standard, noncommittal ‘I don’t remember any such complaints,”‘ Stern writes. “The denials were firm.” One said: “‘She did not come to me. If she had, I would have remembered.'” Another’s comment was similar.
The third said:
“‘I never once witnessed, or heard of, or received any reports of inappropriate conduct (by Biden), period.’ If Reade had made such a complaint to her, she added, it ‘would have left a searing impression on me as a woman professional, and as a manager.'”
—Although Reade provided a copy of her 1993 Senate employment records, she has no copy of the complaint she claims she filed against Biden when she left, or was fired, from her job in Biden’s office.
Nor could The New York Times find such a document. Biden has said he’ll ask The National Archives, where such documents reside, to do a search.
—She couldn’t recall the date, time, or location of the alleged assault.
“Reade’s amnesia about specifics makes it impossible for Biden to go through records and prove he could not have committed the assault, because he was somewhere else at the time.”
–She says she told her mother (now deceased) and her brother.
But when her brother was interviewed by The Washington Post, he didn’t mention the sexual assault–the most important part of her charge–but texted that detail to The Post several days later.
Stern finds that time gap questionable.
Similarly, her mother was, according to her, the anonymous caller to The Larry King Live show in 1993. That call was reported as new evidence last week.
The caller said her daughter had been working for a prominent Senator, “could not get through with her problems at all,” and chose not to go to the press “out of respect for him.”
“Given that the call was anonymous, Reade’s mother should have felt comfortable relaying the worst version of events. When trying to obtain someone’s assistance, people typically do not downplay the seriousness of an incident. They exaggerate it.
“That Reade’s mother said nothing about her daughter being sexually assaulted would lead many reasonable people to conclude that sexual assault was not the problem that prompted the call to King.”
–Multiple times, in 2017, she praised Biden for his work combating sexual assault. She also tweeted: “My old boss speaks truth. Listen.”
“It is bizarre that Reade would publicly laud Biden for combatting the very thing she would later accuse him of doing to her.”
–Also in 2017, Reade was condemning Vladimir Putin’s efforts to harm American democracy by interfering in the 2016 election.
But in 2018, she referred to Putin as a “genius” whose athleticism is “intoxicating to American women.”
“President Putin has an alluring combination of strength with gentleness. His sensuous image projects his love for life, the embodiment of grace while facing adversity.”
By 2019 she had expressed the belief that Russian interference in the 2016 election was hype.
More recently, she has claimed that her expressions of admiration for Putin, made in opinion pieces, were taken out of context for a novel she’s writing, and she doesn’t support Putin.
Stern provides other compelling examples as well. His examination is well worth reading.
–Also illuminating is the information provided by Lynn Hummer, founder of a California horse sanctuary where Reade was a volunteer from 2014-2016.
According to an article in Medium, Hummer claims that Reade “stole from her nonprofit, lied, and created stories to obtain sympathy and money.”
“Look, this isn’t about protecting women. This isn’t about the #metoo movement. This isn’t about Joe Biden. This is about truth. Tara Reade stole from me. She lied to me. She stole from my organization. She manipulated me and she duped me…And I have documentation, images and emails to prove it.”
Biden, to his credit, has said he’s not going to question Reade’s motives, though he doesn’t understand why she’s making the charge.
I think one of the reasons it’s so problematic for Biden and his supporters to speak openly about this issue is that to respond honestly, they would be casting aspersions on Tara Reade’s integrity and mental stability.
In this #metoo era, that is difficult to do. We are not talking here about all the women who succeeded, at last, in getting justice from Harvey Weinstein.
As Stern concludes:
“We can support the #MeToo movement and not support allegations of sexual assault that do not ring true. If these two positions cannot coexist, the movement is no more than a hit squad. That’s not how I see the #MeToo movement. It’s too important, for too many victims of sexual assault and their allies, to be no more than that.”
Chris Hayes, whose original reportage was so roundly condemned on Twitter that it morphed into a #FireChrisHayes movement (which I condemn), discussed the three groups of attacks he received.
The first and second groups he could accept: people who supported Biden and people who said “I don’t care; I’m voting for him anyway.”
But the third group–people who attacked Reade and cited other things about her, such as her strange fascination with Putin–he claimed, was doing just what the #metoo movement was designed to counter.
Hayes’s comments gave me pause because in citing Stern and Hummer, I am falling into that third group.
But how can we arrive at the truth if we simply focus on a single incident that inevitably comes down to a “he said; she said” dispute?
To me, hearing independent complaints from Hummer, the horse rescue woman, that Reade had manipulated and stolen money from her, is relevant to character.
Her comments about Putin, I feel, are an indication of instability. Can an unstable person still be a victim of abuse? No doubt, but all these are pieces in a puzzle.
When that puzzle threatens the integrity of a man whose otherwise worst charge was that he inappropriately hugged women who didn’t want to be hugged, I think all the pieces should be considered.
Experts in sexual abuse nearly uniformly say there is always a pattern–not a single instance.
I greatly worry that the press will make this into a “Hillary’s email” issue–though the topic is much more visceral, especially for women, who will be the deciding voters in the November election.
There are already calls for the University of Delaware to release his papers–despite his saying they have no personnel information and contain private conversations with President Obama and foreign leaders.
There are valid reasons that politicians uniformly keep their papers closed to the public until after they’ve left the political scene.
Nevertheless, this demand is made on today’s New York Times editorial page, which offers the following:
“Any inventory should be strictly limited to information about Ms. Reade and conducted by an unbiased, apolitical panel, put together by the D.N.C. [Democratic National Committee] and chose to foster as much trust in its findings as possible.”
All such demands seem to me ludicrous in these hyper-partisan times, and particularly unfair because the existing President has gotten away with hiding his income tax returns and a slew of other documents.
Why on earth should Biden do what to my knowledge no other candidate has done–and certainly not this most duplicitous and evasive opponent?
So I am deeply concerned that this drumbeat may seriously weaken the candidacy of a good man, and lead to Donald Trump’s reelection–he who has been charged by at least 12 women of sexual assault, including one who states that he raped her, and was elected despite having been shown on tape describing his modus operandi for sexual assault.
Press sources are saying this story of Biden’s alleged sexual assault of Reade now has “legs”–it’s not going away.
Of course the press has to follow this story to its conclusion. But they must look more closely at Reade’s contradictions, as Michael Stern has. And anyone who interviews Reade must ask her, politely, to explain her changed stories.
Many prosecutors and sexual assault victims on Twitter have agreed with Stern’s conclusions.
In important ways, I feel that Joe Biden is the ideal person to lead us now: his recent experience in the White House involved combating epidemics, resolving serious economic crises, and expanding health care—all critical to our near-term societal needs.
In addition, his obvious compassion is critically important for our hurt nation. And his willingness to work across the aisle suggests that if any bipartisan efforts are possible, he’ll be in a good position to take advantage of them.
I’ll leave my chat with him on the issues for another time–when I hope this story will fold its legs and–at the very least–give a closer look at all the charges against President Trump, whose behavior actually deserves scrutiny.
There were mea culpas after the damage was done from members of the media for obsessing over Hillary’s emails in 2016 while letting Donald Trump off the hook. That must not happen again.