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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman May 12, 2020

There's a story behind this Biden misquote

If Your Time is short

  • On MSNBC, Biden called on the National Archives to release any complaint by Tara Reade against him. But he said his sealed senatorial records at the University of Delaware don’t contain personnel records that would shed light on the allegation. 

  • He said the documents comprise policy positions and other official actions that could be "taken out of context" and used to hurt his presidential campaign.

  • The quote in the Facebook post is not what he said.

Former Vice President Joe Biden appeared on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" on May 1 and denied a sexual assault allegation made by Tara Reade, a staff assistant who worked for him in the 1990s when he was a U.S. senator. He released an extended statement about it the same day.

A Facebook post claims that Biden said on the show that whatever he did in the past shouldn’t be made public while he runs for president.

The post reads: "‘The things I did while in elected office should not be made public while I am seeking a higher public office’ — Joe Biden this morning on MSNBC…"

It was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

This is not a direct quote from Biden. It appears to be a loose paraphrasing of Biden explaining what’s in his sealed senatorial records that are stored at the University of Delaware, his alma mater.

Reade said she filed a written complaint with the Senate in 1993 about Biden, but no documentation of that complaint has surfaced. During his appearance on MSNBC, Biden called on the Senate-controlled National Archives to search for and publicly release any such complaint, and said that’s the only place it could be.

The University of Delaware, meanwhile, maintains a sealed collection of more than 1,850 boxes of Biden’s papers that span his 36-year career in the Senate. The library received the collection in June 2012, when Biden was vice president.

"Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski asked Biden about reports that the university’s records were supposed to be released to the public but were instead resealed until Biden leaves public life. The university posted the new policy in April 2019, just before Biden announced his presidential campaign. 

"The collection, which also includes extensive electronic records and media, will remain closed pending completion of processing. The records will be available no sooner than the later date of December 31, 2019, or two years after the donor retires from public life," the university says on its website.

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Biden said those documents wouldn’t include any personnel records that would contain a complaint like Reade’s. He said the collection is of "personal papers," such as speeches, policy positions, overseas interviews, and other official actions. He told Brzezinski that, if released, the records could be taken out of context and used against him as campaign fodder.

This was his full response

"The fact is that there’s a lot of things, of speeches I’ve made, positions I’ve taken, interviews that I did overseas with people, all of those things relating to my job, and the idea that they would all be made public in the fact while I was running for public office, they could be really taken out of context. They’re papers or position papers. They are documents that existed and that — when I met, for example, when I met with Putin or when I met with whomever, and all of that could be fodder in a campaign at this time. I don’t know of anybody who’s done anything like that. And so the National Archives is the only place there would be anything having to do with personnel records. There are no personnel records in the Biden papers at the university."

The National Archives said it has no record of any personnel files that would contain such a complaint, and Biden forwarded the request to Julie Adams, the secretary of the Senate. In response, Adams said she can’t disclose the information, citing "strict confidentiality requirements" in the Office of Senate Fair Employment Practices and advice from the Senate legal counsel.

Archivists familiar with the personal papers of politicians told Politico that Biden’s arrangement at the University of Delaware isn’t uncommon, saying that it is standard practice for members and former members of Congress to close their records when they run for another office.

We reached out to Biden’s campaign for comment but did not hear back by time of publication.

Our ruling

A Facebook post claims Biden went on MSNBC and said, "The things I did while in elected office should not be made public while I am seeking a higher public office." 

He didn’t literally say it. 

During the interview, Biden denied the sexual assault allegation and called for the National Archives to release any complaint it found from Reade. He did say that his sealed senatorial records could be taken out of context if made public, referring broadly to his personal papers held by the University of Delaware, not specifically to a complaint by Reade.

The post is partially accurate because it’s based on something Biden did say, but it leaves out important details or takes things out of context. We rate it Half True.

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