Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, denied on May 1 an allegation by a former Senate aide, Tara Reade, who says he sexually assaulted her in 1993.
“It is not true,” Biden said in an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I’m saying unequivocally, it never, never happened.”
It was the first time Biden has publicly addressed the allegation, which has caused angst among Democratic Party officials and voters alike as the former Vice President campaigns to unseat President Donald Trump, who has himself been accused of sexual assault by at least 17 women. (Trump denies the allegations.)
In a phone interview with TIME on May 1, Reade said she had no comment on Biden’s Morning Joe appearance but described her decision to come forward.
“It’s been really excruciating coming forward about Joe Biden. He was my boss, and I really liked him, and I liked what he represented,” Reade says. “When that sexual assault happened, it was devastating. I mean, he was like my father’s age. He was my boss. And I felt, for some reason when it happened, at that time, because of what he said to me, I felt somehow I brought it on.”
Here’s what we know about Reade’s allegations against Biden:
Who is Tara Reade and what are her allegations against Biden?
Reade, 56, worked as an aide for then-Senator Biden for less than a year, from late 1992 into 1993. Her responsibilities included overseeing interns. She says she later graduated from the Seattle University School of Law, though she never took the bar exam, and has worked as a behavior therapist for special-needs children and as an expert witness.
Reade calls herself a “hard-core Democrat” who voted for the Obama-Biden ticket. She says she supported Marianne Williamson, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. Reade has also tweeted praise of Biden in the past, from an old Twitter account she says has since been hacked. Asked by TIME about a 2017 tweet that appeared to praise Biden, Reade says it was from a time “when I was still feeling kind of conflicted about Joe Biden. And during that time I wasn’t ready to come forward with what happened to me.”
As the Democratic presidential race was getting underway in the spring of 2019, Reade was one of eight women who came forward in quick succession to allege that Biden had touched them inappropriately, made them feel uncomfortable, or invaded their personal space in the past. (Those complaints included allegations that Biden kissed them on the back of the head, rubbed noses, or hugged them “just a little bit too long.”)
Reade told a local newspaper at the time that Biden touched her during her employment in his office in a manner that made her feel uncomfortable. “He used to put his hand on my shoulder and run his finger up my neck,” Reade told the Union of Nevada County, Calif., in a story published April 3, 2019. “I would just kind of freeze and wait for him to stop doing that.” She described an office atmosphere that objectified women, including one incident where she says she was asked to serve drinks because Biden liked her legs.
After the women came forward in 2019, Biden acknowledged their complaints and pledged to avoid such behavior in the future. “The boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset, and I get it,” he said in a video responding to the complaints on April 3, 2019. “I get it. I hear what they’re saying, I understand it, and I’ll be much more mindful.”
Reade spoke to several news organizations in the wake of her initial allegations about inappropriate touching. The Associated Press has stated that it did not publish her story at the time because “reporters were unable to corroborate her allegations, and aspects of her story contradicted other reporting.” The Washington Post, which also did not then publish her story, said that Reade “did not mention the alleged assault or suggest there was more to the story.”
On March 25, 2020, The Katie Halper Show, a progressive podcast, first released an excerpt from an interview Reade conducted with Halper in which she made new allegations against Biden. This conversation came in the wake of a report the previous day by The Intercept that detailed how Reade had approached Time’s Up, an organization that works with women who come forward with sexual harassment, assault or discrimination stories; the Intercept report asserted that the group declined to fund Reade’s complaint against Biden.
In the interview with Halper, Reade alleged that Biden had sexually assaulted her while the two were alone on Capitol Hill in 1993. Reade says she was dropping off an athletic bag for the Senator in the Capitol Hill complex, a maze of halls and tunnels that connect the U.S. Capitol building to Senate and House office buildings. According to Reade, Biden had been speaking with another person, who walked away as she approached. “All at once,” she said, Biden pressed her against a wall.
“He just had me up against the wall, and the wall was cold. And I remember, he— it happened all at once. The gym bag, I don’t know where it went, I handed it to him, it was gone, and then his hands were on me, and underneath my clothes,” Reade said. “He went down my skirt, but then up inside it, and he penetrated me with his fingers.”
Reade told Halper that she complained internally to Biden aides about the way she was treated in the office, but did not bring up the alleged assault. Reade said her complaints were to no avail. On May 2, Reade told the Associated Press that while filing a separate, formal complaint with a congressional personnel office, she “chickened out” before completing the report. Reade told the AP that the “intake form” she filled out did not mention either sexual assault or sexual harassment.
On April 9, 2020, Reade filed a police report in Washington, D.C. The document provided to TIME by Washington police does not name Reade or Biden, but Reade told TIME that the report is about the sexual assault allegation against Biden. Reade told NPR that she filed the police report after being the subject of “online harassment.” A spokeswoman for the police department told TIME that the case is currently inactive, and the police department had no further comment. Filing a false police report in Washington D.C. can be punishable by fines or jail time.
Reade told TIME that she did not come forward with her story until recently because she’d become immersed in raising her daughter and pursuing her career. But when the other women came forward in 2019 alleging that Biden had touched them inappropriately, Reade said, she had a “pivotal” conversation with her daughter. “She said, ‘You know, he’s just too powerful,'” Reade says. “‘I don’t think you should say anything because he has too much power.’ And I thought, oh, well now I have to.”
Reade says the decision wasn’t easy. “I’ve always been conflicted about Joe Biden,” she says, noting his work on the Violence Against Women Act. “So you can see how it’s like cognitive dissonance almost. This person did this to me, but yet he did good things.”
Have aspects of Reade’s allegation been corroborated?
Friends and family of Reade’s have corroborated parts of her account to news outlets, including one friend who says they were told of the sexual assault contemporaneously. Reade’s former colleague Lorraine Sanchez told Business Insider that she recalls Reade discussing sexual harassment by a former boss in D.C.
Reade’s brother told the Post for a report published April 12 that he remembered his sister telling him that Biden had been “inappropriate.” Days after his interview with the Post, he added that he remembered his sister saying that Biden had put his hands under her clothes.
Business Insider also spoke with a former neighbor of Reade’s, Lynda LaCasse, who recalls Reade describing details of the alleged assault in the mid-1990s.
One of Reade’s friends, who has spoken anonymously to other news organizations and was granted anonymity by TIME for professional and safety reasons, said that Reade informed the friend about the alleged sexual assault at the time. The friend, who recalls living in the same building in Washington as Reade and overlapping with her on Capitol Hill (but did not work in Biden’s office), says that Reade spoke about the alleged assault “within days” of it happening, toward the end of the spring of 1993.
“Her mom wanted her to file a police report then, and I told her not to,” the friend, whose number was provided by Reade, told TIME. “I said, ‘Do whatever you want to do, but I would not unless you’re ready to leave D.C., because every job interview you go into here forward, you won’t be the person who researched legislation for an animal-rights bill or a battered-women bill. You’re going to be the woman who filed a police report against a sitting senator.”
Reade says she told her late mother about the incident. In late-April, The Intercept uncovered a tape of an anonymous woman calling into CNN’s Larry King show about her daughter’s “problems” working for a prominent senator. Reade has identified the woman as her mother. The woman calling into the show did not specify that she was referring to a sexual assault.
Reade told the New York Times that she complained to three Biden Senate staffers at the time about the sexual harassment allegations, but did not mention the alleged assault. One of the staffers told the Times he did not remember Reade. Another told the outlet he did not know her. A third, Marianne Baker, then Biden’s executive assistant, told the Times in a statement that she had “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.”
No physical evidence or eyewitnesses about the alleged attack have surfaced, and no contemporary formal documentation of her complaint has been found. No other women have alleged that Biden attacked them, touched their genitals or sexually assaulted them in a manner consistent with Reade’s allegation.
What does Biden say?
After weeks of relying on a prepared statement from his campaign that denied the incident, Biden spoke about the allegations for the first time in his May 1 interview on Morning Joe. He vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
“It is not true,” Biden said. “I am saying unequivocally it never, never happened, and it didn’t. It never happened.”
Interviewer Mika Brzezinski quoted Biden’s past statements that women who come forward alleging sexual assault should be believed.
“Look, from the very beginning, I’ve said believing women means taking the woman’s claim seriously when she steps forward, and then vet it, look into it,” the former Vice President said. “That’s true in this case as well. Women have a right to be heard, and the press should rigorously investigate claims they make. I’ll always uphold that principle. But in the end, in every case, the truth is what matters. And in this case, the truth is the claims are false.”
Biden said he did not remember any complaint made by Reade. “I don’t remember any type of complaint she may have made. It was 27 years ago, and I don’t remember, nor does anyone else that I’m aware of,” he said, when Brzezinski asked if he remembered Reade.
“I’m not going to question her motive, I’m not going to get into that at all, I don’t know why she’s saying this,” Biden said. “I don’t know why after 27 years all of a sudden this gets raised. I don’t understand it. But I’m not going to go in and question her motive, I’m not going to attack her. She has a right to say whatever she wants to say, but I have a right to say look at the facts, check it out, find out whether any of what she says, has asserted, are true.”
On May 1, Biden urged the Secretary of the Senate to search the National Archive for records of the complaint Reade said she filed. “I request that you take or direct whatever steps are necessary to establish the location of the records of this Office, and once they have been located, to direct a search for the alleged complaint and to make public the results of this search,” Biden wrote. “I would ask that the public release include not only a complaint if one exists, but any and all other documents in the records that relate to the allegation.”
Brzezinski also asked if he would authorize the opening of his Senate documents, currently held at the University of Delaware, to search for any relevant records. Biden, whose records are currently sealed until two years after he retires from public life, pushed back on the need to open those records. “They don’t contain any personnel files,” he said. “They are public records, my speeches, my papers, my position papers. And if that document exists, it would be stored in the National Archives, where documents from the office she claims to have filed her complaint with are stored.”
How has the allegation been treated?
Some media outlets were slow to pick up on the story, but the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Associated Press all launched investigations shortly thereafter.
TIME first requested an interview with Reade on March 31, shortly after she gave her interview to Halper. Reade consented to an interview, but at the appointed time in April, Reade said she was feeling ill. The interview was rescheduled for a few days later, but Reade did not answer a call or text. She called TIME on May 1 after receiving written inquiries for this story. Though she spoke with TIME for about half an hour, she did not want at that moment to speak about the alleged sexual assault, which she says is emotionally taxing. She offered instead to discuss what she called the “evolution” of her decision to speak out about Biden.
After she came forward with allegations against Biden, Reade’s credibility was called into question by some critics, who noted her support of other candidates in the 2020 Democratic cycle as well as blog posts she wrote praising Vladimir Putin, including a now-deleted Medium post entitled “Why a Liberal Democrat Supports Vladimir Putin.” Reade says her past posts regarding Russia have been taken out of context. “What I would say is I do not support Vladimir Putin any longer,” she says.
Reade’s story has been amplified by Republicans, some members of the #MeToo feminist movement and some supporters of Sanders, Biden’s top rival for the Democratic nomination. Conservatives in particular have pointed out what they see as a media double standard, noting Democrats urged the public to “Believe Women” as a #MeToo rallying cry and pointing out that Reade’s allegations have been treated differently than those made by Christine Blasey Ford, who testified under oath that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her as a teenager. (Kavanaugh denies the charges.)
Some #MeToo activists, like actress Rose McGowan, have been vocally supportive of Reade, and called on Biden to end his campaign. Other #MeToo leaders acknowledged the difficulty of Reade’s allegation at a moment when Biden has emerged as the presumptive Democratic nominee against a President who has been accused of sexual assault by at least 17 women. Trump, who was caught on tape in 2016 bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy,” was most recently accused of rape by writer E. Jean Carroll, who is seeking his DNA in a lawsuit. (The President denies all the allegations.)
Tarana Burke, one of the founders of the #MeToo movement, tweeted: “The inconvenient truth is that this story is impacting us differently because it hits at the heart of one of the most important elections of our lifetime. And I hate to disappoint you but I don’t really have easy answers.” In an essay about why she still supports Biden, #MeToo advocate Alyssa Milano wrote: “Believing women was never about ‘Believe all women no matter what they say,’ it was about changing the culture of NOT believing women by default.”
Prominent female Democrats, including Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi and Amy Klobuchar, have stuck by Biden as the allegation gained steam. “She has come forward, she has spoken, and they have done an investigation in several outlets. Those investigations, Vice President Biden has called for himself,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a prominent defender of sexual-assault victims who pushed for Senator Al Franken’s resignation at the height of #MeToo, told reporters Thursday. “Vice President Biden has vehemently denied these allegations and I support Vice President Biden.”