There is a woman named Tara Reade who has, in recent days, made a sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden that is certainly disturbing. What to make of those allegations?
Let’s review what we know so far: what is known is that Ms. Reade was a staffer in Joe Biden’s Senate office for about nine months from December 1992 to August 1993, with responsibilities that included primarily supervision of the office’s interns. She says that sometime in the spring of 1993 she was asked to deliver an athletic bag to Biden, and that when she found him, he pushed her up against a wall and essentially tried to finger-fuck her (“digital penetration”).
Reade said that after the incident she complained to three people in the Biden campaign: Marianne Baker, Mr. Biden’s executive assistant, Dennis Toner, his Deputy Chief-of-Staff, and Ted Kaufman, his Chief of Staff,1. Reade herself does not claim that she mentioned a sexual assault, and it’s not completely clear what she complained of to the three Biden staffers. (None of the three have any memory of meeting with Reade, and all three claim that if she had brought forward sexual assault allegations, they would have remembered.)
In March of 2019 Nevada State Assemblywoman Lucy Flores came forward with allegations that sometime in the past Biden had touched her shoulders and hair in ways that made her uncomfortable.2 This wasn’t really a shock to people who knew Biden well, as Biden was known to be a very “handsy” politician who loved to massage people’s shoulders — men and women, by the way — and who was very touchy with a lot of the people he met. A half-dozen other women came out of the woodwork at the time, saying that they had had similar experiences with Biden, and one of those women was Tara Reade. At the time Reade claimed that Biden had treated her like a “beautiful lamp.”
Reasons to Believe Tara Reade
In this day and age of the #MeToo movement we should start with the principle that women should be believed. Because someone makes an allegation is, of course, not the same as having it be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. But nonetheless, we should start with the default position that women should be believed.
Second, there are a number of people who confirm parts of Ms. Reade’s story. In particular:
- A woman named Linda LaCosse, who was a neighbor of Reade’s back in 1995 or 1996, remembers a conversation with Reade on her front stoop. They had a discussion about custody and violence, and Reade told her the allegations about Joe Biden.3
- A woman named Lorraine Sanchez, who worked with Reade in the office of a California state legislator in the mid-1990s, remembers that Reade claimed to have been sexually harassed by Biden.4
- In 1993 Reade’s mother apparently called in to Larry King and said “Hello. I’m wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington. 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.” 5
- Reade’s brother, Collin Moulton, does recall recalled Reade telling him about an incident in the early 1990s that happened when she was asked to bring Biden a gym bag, but does not remember the details.
It certainly appears that something happened, and that Reade told her story to Linda LaCosse back in 1995 or 1996 is definitely significant. Whether that something is exactly what she described is less likely.
Reasons not to believe Tara Reade
There are also a number of reasons to be wary of Ms. Reade’s story and these include:
- Her story has changed over time. Initially, when Lucy Flores came forward, Reade had claimed that Biden had touched her shoulder and neck in a way that made her feel uncomfortable.
- No one in Biden’s office remembers her ever making any complaint about sexual harassment, and other women in his office at the time had a very different experience.
- The timing of Reade’s allegation is very curious, since there was a perfect opportunity for her to make her allegations at the same time that the Lucy Flores allegations came forth, which would also have been a time where there were still prominent women in the race and the race was still competitive.
- Reade could have a political motive. She was an outspoken supporter first of Marianne Williamson, then of Elizabeth Warren, and then of Bernie Sanders. She did not come forward with these new allegations until Sanders route to the nomination was foreclosed. 6
- Reade claimed that she had filed a formal grievance with the Senate Personnel Office at the time, but no such grievance could be found.
- After Biden worked to pass the Violence Against Women Act, Reade retweeted or “liked” praise for Biden and his work combating sexual assault, and did so on multiple occasions.
- Reade became an attorney and worked as an advocate for the domestically abused, so she certainly knew her legal rights a long time ago.
The other thing that should be noted is that these allegations are not consistent with what we know about Biden. While he was known to be “handsy,” this is the only allegation of sexual assault ever made against him, and it is well known that men who assault women sexually usually do so more than once. In addition, Biden was not known as a party boy, but as a guy who got on the train at the end of every day to head home to Delaware.
My guess as to what happened
Part of the reason that we have statutes of limitation is that it’s very difficult to prove or disprove something that happened 27 years ago. Here there is plenty of reason to believe that something happened, something that upset Tara Reid and made her uncomfortable. But there is also plenty of reason to be suspicious of the allegation that Biden suddenly decided to finger-fuck this woman, and only this woman, when he had no such history with anyone else in his professional life.
Comparison to Donald Trump
Finally, we have to draw a quick comparison with Donald Trump. Trump has had, at last counting, 20 women accuse him of sexual assault, and another five pageant contestants accuse him of walking in on them while they were in various states of undress.
It would, of course, be better if none of the candidates from the two major parties running for President had any allegations of sexual assault hanging over them. But if Tara Reade wanted the rest of us to take her allegations into consideration during the voting process, it would have been much more helpful if she could have made them public while the race was still competitive.
Now, to the degree that her allegations spread doubt about Joe Biden, it really does just make it easier for Donald Trump — a man about whom sexual allegations cannot really be in doubt7 — to be re-elected in 2020.
And that is not an outcome that any thinking person should be okay with.
- Kaufman succeeded Biden as the Senator from Delaware after Biden became Vice President.
- Specifically Flores had alleged that at a 2014 campaign rally in Nevada Biden had “walked up behind her, put his hands on her shoulders, smelled her hair, and planted a kiss on the back of her head”
- As reported by NPR, public records confirmed that Reade and LaCasse were neighbors in Morro Bay, California, during the 1990s. Reade also told NPR that LaCasse that she is a “very strong Democrat,” who supported Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren during the primaries, and intends to support Biden in the general election.
- Sanchez did not claim, however, that Reade told her that she had been sexually assaulted.
- Of note, the called does not identify herself, does not explain what the “problems” were, and does not mention sexual harassment, sexual assault, Joe Biden or Tara Reade.
- Reade also has a very stranger relationship to Vladimir Putin and Russia, at times giving effusive praise of them and at other times being in fierce opposition to them.
- Even if Trump were not to be guilty of all the allegations made against him, there is almost no likelihood that he is innocent of all of them.