Facts are under assault in 2020.
We can't fight back misinformation about the election and COVID-19 without you. Support trusted, factual information with a tax deductible contribution to PolitiFact
I would like to contribute
If Your Time is short
- Tara Reade, who worked for Joe Biden as a staff assistant when he was a U.S. senator, has accused the presumptive Democratic nominee of sexually assaulting her in 1993.
- Biden has denied the allegations.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include Biden’s response on May 1.
More than two dozen women have accused President Donald Trump of sexual assault, and many of the allegations emerged not long before his election in November 2016. In October of that year, multiple women said he forced himself on them. A few months earlier, another woman who worked with Trump in the 1990s claimed he once pushed her against a wall and put his hand up her skirt.
Now his opponent, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, is the object of a similar, serious accusation. Former Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime politician who touts himself as a champion of women, faces sexual assault allegations made by a former aide who worked for him when he was a U.S. senator.
Tara Reade was a 29-year-old staff assistant in 1993 when she says Biden pushed her against a wall in the Capitol complex, reached under her skirt and penetrated her with his fingers. By Reade’s account, she resisted Biden’s advances and he became annoyed, telling her that he had heard she liked him and then saying "you’re nothing to me" before shaking her by the shoulders and saying, "you’re okay, you’re fine."
Reade says she told senior Biden aides that the senator made her uncomfortable but that she didn’t mention the alleged assault. She also said she filed a written complaint with the Senate about Biden, but documentation of that complaint has not surfaced. Reade told reporters she doesn’t have a copy. But after filing that complaint, Reade says, her supervisors took away most of her duties and she was pressured to leave her job.
Biden and his campaign have denied what Reade says happened.
"Women have a right to tell their story and reporters have an obligation to rigorously vet those claims," Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s communications director, said in a statement published by multiple news outlets. "We encourage them to do so, because these accusations are false."
Biden’s campaign did not directly answer several questions from PolitiFact about Reade’s allegations. Instead, it provided this April 13 statement from Bedingfield: "Vice President Biden has dedicated his life to changing the culture and the laws around violence against women. 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 is untrue: This absolutely did not happen."
Reade did not respond to an interview request from PolitiFact. News reports dating back more than a year ago detail what she has said happened. Here’s what we know.
April 2019: Reade first said publicly that Biden inappropriately touched her in April 2019, around the time several women complained of unwanted physical contact with Biden. He was preparing to announce his candidacy for president when Reade told The Union, a newspaper in Nevada County, Calif., that he had touched her several times and made her feel uncomfortable.
"He used to put his hand on my shoulder and run his finger up my neck," she said. "I would just kind of freeze and wait for him to stop doing that."
Reade said that her job responsibilities were reduced after she refused to serve drinks at an event, a task she told the Union she was tapped for because Biden liked her legs. She said she spoke to U.S. Senate personnel about her concerns over Biden’s behavior and that she felt pushed out after word got back to Biden’s office. She left the office in August 1993, after working for Biden for about nine months, according to the paper. "Reade opted against serving drinks, a move she believes sidelined her career," the article says.
The Union quoted an unnamed friend who said that Reade had relayed those allegations against Biden shortly after Reade said they happened.
March 2020: On March 25, Reade gave an interview on writer Katie Halper’s podcast alleging that Biden sexually assaulted her. She said that at the time she told her mother, her brother, Collin Moulton, and a friend. (Halper more recently wrote an opinion piece published in the Guardian that argues Reade’s story had not yet earned the attention it deserves.)
April 2020: On April 9, Reade filed a police report in Washington, D.C., saying she was a sexual assault victim in 1993 without naming Biden, the New York Times reported. Reade told the newspaper she filed the report to give herself additional safety from potential threats. A police spokesperson later told Business Insider that there was an "active investigation" into the complaint, but the department has since said the case was "moved to an inactive status."
On April 12, both the New York Times and the Washington Post published stories examining the new allegations against Biden. The Times spoke to several people who worked in the Senate office with Reade who said they didn’t recall discussion of such an incident or similar behavior by Biden. Two interns who worked directly with Reade also said they were unaware of any problems, according to the Times.
The Times reported that Reade said she complained about Biden’s behavior but did not mention the alleged assault to Marianne Baker, Biden’s executive assistant, and two top aides, Dennis Toner and Ted Kaufman. They declined to take action, Reade said.
Toner and Kaufman told the Times that they don’t remember Reade. Toner said it’s "so preposterous that Senator Biden would be faced with these allegations," and Kaufman said Reade didn’t approach him with her concerns.
Baker said in a statement provided by Biden’s campaign that she has "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."
"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," she said.
The Times also talked to two friends of Reade’s who would only talk to the newspaper if their names were not used. One friend said that Reade told her about the alleged assault in 1993. The other said Reade told her in 2008 that Biden had touched her inappropriately and that she’d had a traumatic experience working in his office.
The Washington Post reported that while Biden has been accused of unwanted hugging and physical contact, the newspaper found no other allegations against him that were as serious as what Reade claims happened.
Reade’s brother, Moulton, told the Post that his sister had told him parts of his 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 that he said she was nothing to him."
Moulton texted the Post a few days after the interview to clarify his remarks, according to the paper. He said he recalled Reade told him in the early 1990s that Biden had cornered her and put his hands under her clothes.
The Post interviewed half a dozen former Biden staffers who overlapped with Reade’s employment. None said they saw Biden touch Reade or ask her to serve drinks.
On April 24, the Intercept reported on an August 1993 Larry King Live episode in which a woman calls into the CNN show to discuss her daughter’s "problems" with a senator. Reade says that caller was her mother, who has since died.
"I’m wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington," the caller said. "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."
On April 27, Business Insider published a story quoting Reade’s former neighbor, Lynda LaCasse, who said Reade told her in 1995 or 1996 that Biden assaulted her.
"This happened and I know it did because I remember talking about it," LaCasse said.
LaCasse, who supports Biden in the 2020 presidential race, recalled to Business Insider that Reade was crying and upset as she relayed the allegations against Biden.
"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 put his hand up her skirt and he put his fingers inside her. She felt like she was assaulted, and she really didn’t feel there was anything she could do."
Lorraine Sanchez, who worked with Reade in the office of a California state senator in the mid 1990s, also told Business Insider that Reade talked about being sexually harassed by a former boss.
After her initial accusation that Biden touched her inappropriately more than a year ago, Reade’s decision to disclose a different, more serious allegation this spring has drawn questions about her motivations and credibility.
Reade told the New York Times, among others, that she didn’t mention the assault allegation when she spoke out against Biden in 2019 because she was scared. She received death threats, she said, and was accused of being a Russian agent because of Medium posts and tweets praising Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a December 2018 Medium essay, Reade wrote glowingly about Putin, saying he "scares the power elite in America because he is a compassionate, caring, visionary leader."
"To President Putin," Reade concluded, "I say keep your eyes to the beautiful future and maybe, just maybe America will come to Russia as I do, with eyes of love."
Reade told the New York Times that she wasn’t working for Russia, didn’t support Putin and that her comments stemmed from a novel she was writing at the time. She said her praise of Putin was "misguided."
Still, as columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote in the New York Times, "Reade seems almost engineered in a lab to inspire skepticism in mainstream Democrats, both because her story keeps changing and because of her bizarre public worship of President Vladimir Putin."
Such skeptics included Ruth Marcus, an editorial page editor at the Washington Post, who wrote on April 15 that she didn’t think what Reade claims happened. She cited "red flags," including an inconsistent attitude toward Biden — at times Reade praised him on Twitter — and conflicting descriptions of why she left her job in Biden’s office after only nine months.
"She received a job offer, she was tired of the ‘reckless imperialism of America’ and, more recently, ‘she was forced to resign,’" Marcus recounts.
The Associated Press identified other inconsistencies in its April 13 report on Reade’s allegations.
The AP spoke with Reade back in April 2019, the story says, when she alleged that Biden rubbed her shoulders and neck and played with her hair. She also said she was asked by another aide to dress more conservatively and not "be so sexy." The AP didn’t publish the details of the interview at the time because reporters couldn’t corroborate her claims "and aspects of her story contradicted other reporting," the story says. The AP story also notes that Reade told the AP that Dennis Toner encouraged her to find a new job because she wasn’t a good fit. "This contradicts her comments to The New York Times, which reported Reade said Ted Kaufman told her she was not a good fit for the job."
Reade’s brother’s story has also changed, according to news reports. On April 29, ABC News published a story that said during an interview in late March he "initially said he only heard her account of the assault this spring" but that he texted later that day to say he remembered Reade telling him in 1993 that Biden had "more or less cornered her against the wall" and "put his hands ‘up her clothes.’"
But others are not so incredulous of Reade’s claims. In New York magazine, for example, Sarah Jones wrote that if Reade is telling the truth about Biden, "her hesitancy to go public with the full story makes sense. It would be easier to tell the truth in pieces, to start with the sexual harassment, especially as other women came forward with their own stories about Biden’s misbehavior."
On April 29, Marcus wrote another column calling on Biden to respond to Reade. The emerging information about her claims, including the corroborating evidence disclosed by Business Insider, "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."
On May 1, Biden appeared on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" and released an extended statement denying the allegation.
"They aren’t true. This never happened," Biden wrote.
Biden said that none of his former staffers had heard of the allegation and wouldn’t have remained silent if they had. Any complaint would have been held by the National Archives, he said, and he called on the Secretary of the Senate to ask the Archives to search for a record of a complaint and make it available to the press if it exists.
"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," Biden said.
The Katie Halper show, Biden accuser Tara Reade: "I wanted to be a senator; I didn’t want to sleep with one," March 24, 2020
Medium, Bring on the Light, Dec. 17, 2018
Fox News, New York Times says Biden camp’s talking points ‘inaccurately’ describe their Tara Reade reporting, April 29, 2020
The Washington Post, Assessing Tara Reade’s allegations, April 15, 2020
The New York Times, What to do with Tara Reade’s allegation against Joe BIden, April 13, 2020
New York, Feminism should make you uncomfortable, April 29, 2020
The New York Times, Examining Tara Reade’s sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden, April 12, 2020
USA Today, Why I’m skeptical about Reade’s sexual assault claim gainst Biden: ex-prosecutor, April 29, 2020
Time, 2 more women describe uncomfortable physical contact from Joe Biden, April 3, 2019
The Washington Post, The new Tara Reade revelations make it imperative that Biden address the allegations directly, April 29, 2020
The Intercept, New evidence supporting credibility of Tara Reade’s allegation against Joe Biden emerges, April 24, 2020
Tara Reade tweet, Sept. 19, 2019
The Washington Post, Sexual assault allegation by former Biden Senate aide emerges in campaign, draws denial, April 12, 2020
ABC News, At women’s event, Biden navigates around lngering sexual assault allegation, April 29, 2020
The Associated Press, Former Senate staffer accuses Joe Biden of sexual assault, April 13, 2020
The Guardian, Tara Reade says Joe Biden sexually assaulted her. She deserves to be heard, April 24, 2020
Business Insider, The 25 women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, Oct. 9, 2019
Statement from Joe Biden's campaign, April 13, 2020