WASHINGTON — A former Senate aide who last year accused Joe Biden of inappropriate touching has made an allegation of sexual assault against the former vice president, the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee this fall.
The former aide, Tara Reade, who briefly worked as a staff assistant in Biden’s Senate office, told The New York Times that in 1993, Biden pinned her to a wall in a Senate building, reached under her clothing and penetrated her with his fingers. A friend said that Reade told her the details of the allegation at the time. Another friend and a brother of Reade’s said she told them over the years about a traumatic sexual incident involving Biden.
A spokeswoman for Biden said the allegation was false. In interviews, several people who worked in the Senate office with Reade said they did not recall any talk of such an incident or similar behavior by Biden toward her or any women. Two office interns who worked directly with Reade said they were unaware of the allegation or any treatment that troubled her.
Last year, Reade and seven other women came forward to accuse Biden of kissing, hugging or touching them in ways that made them feel uncomfortable. Reade told The Times then that Biden had publicly stroked her neck, wrapped his fingers in her hair and touched her in ways that made her uncomfortable.
Soon after Reade made the new allegation, in a podcast interview released March 25, The Times began reporting on her account and seeking corroboration through interviews, documents and other sources. The Times interviewed Reade on multiple days over hours, as well as those she told about Biden’s behavior and other friends. The Times has also interviewed lawyers who spoke to Reade about her allegation; nearly two dozen people who worked with Biden during the early 1990s, including many who worked with Reade; and the other seven women who criticized Biden last year, to discuss their experiences with him.
No other allegation about sexual assault surfaced in the course of reporting, nor did any former Biden staff members corroborate any details of Reade’s allegation. The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Biden.
On Thursday, Reade filed a report with the Washington, D.C., police, saying she was the victim of a sexual assault in 1993; the public incident report, provided to The Times by Reade and the police, does not mention Biden by name, but she said the complaint was about him. Reade said she filed the report to give herself an additional degree of safety from potential threats. Filing a false police report may be punishable by a fine and imprisonment.
Reade, who worked as a staff assistant helping manage office interns, said she also filed a complaint with the Senate in 1993 about Biden; she said she did not have a copy of it, and such paperwork has not been located. The Biden campaign said it did not have a complaint. The Times reviewed an official copy of her employment history from the Senate that she provided showing she was hired in December 1992 and paid by Biden’s office until August 1993.
The seven other women who had complained about Biden told The Times this month that they did not have any new information about their experiences to add, but several said they believed Reade’s account.
Last year, Biden, 77, 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.”
In response to Reade’s allegation, Kate Bedingfield, a deputy Biden campaign manager, said in a statement, “Vice President Biden has dedicated his public 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: It is untrue. This absolutely did not happen.”
Reade made her new allegation public as Biden was closing in on the Democratic presidential nomination after winning a string of primaries against his chief rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Reade, who describes herself as a “third-generation Democrat,” said she originally favored Marianne Williamson and Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the race but voted for Sanders in the California primary last month. She said her decision to come forward had nothing to do with politics or helping Sanders and added that neither his campaign nor the Trump campaign had encouraged her to make her allegation.
President Donald Trump has been accused of sexual assault and misconduct by more than a dozen women, who have described a pattern of behavior that went far beyond the accusations against Biden. The president also directed illegal payments — including $130,000 to a pornographic film actress, Stormy Daniels — before the 2016 election to silence women about alleged affairs with Trump, according to federal prosecutors.
Trump has even boasted about his mistreatment of women; in a 2005 recording, he described pushing himself on women and said he would “grab them by the pussy,” bragging that he could get away with “anything” because of his celebrity.
Even so, Trump has at times attacked opponents over their treatment of women. The president has not mentioned Reade’s allegation, which has circulated on social media and in liberal and conservative news outlets.
Reade, 56, told The Times that the assault happened in the spring of 1993. She said she had tracked down Biden to deliver an athletic bag when he pushed her against a cold wall, started kissing her neck and hair and propositioned her. He slid his hand up her cream-colored blouse, she said, and used his knee to part her bare legs before reaching under her skirt.
“It happened at once. He’s talking to me, and his hands are everywhere, and everything is happening very quickly,” she recalled. “He was kissing me, and he said, very low, ‘Do you want to go somewhere else?’”
Reade said she pulled away and Biden stopped.
“He looked at me kind of almost puzzled or shocked,” she said. “He said, ‘Come on, man, I heard you liked me.’”
At the time, Reade said she worried whether she had done something wrong to encourage his advances.
“He pointed his finger at me, and he just goes, ‘You’re nothing to me. Nothing,’” she said. “Then, he took my shoulders and said, ‘You’re OK. You’re fine.’”
Biden walked down the hallway, Reade said, and she cleaned up in a restroom, made her way home and, sobbing, called her mother, who encouraged her to immediately file a police report.
Instead, Reade said, she complained to Marianne Baker, Biden’s executive assistant, as well as to two top aides, Dennis Toner and Ted Kaufman, about harassment by Biden — not mentioning the alleged assault.
The staff declined to take action, Reade said, after which she filed a written complaint with a Senate personnel office. She said office staff took away most of her duties, including supervising the interns; assigned her a windowless office; and made the work environment uncomfortable for her.
She said Kaufman later told her she was not a good fit in the office, giving her a month to look for a job. Reade never secured another position in Washington.
In an interview, Kaufman, a longtime friend of Biden’s who was his chief of staff at the time, said, “I did not know her. She did not come to me. If she had, I would have remembered her.”
Toner, who worked for Biden for more than three decades, said the allegation was out of character for Biden. Other senators and office staffs had reputations for harassing women at work and partying after hours, according to those who worked in the office at the time. Biden was known for racing to catch the train to get home to Wilmington, Delaware, every night.
“It’s just so preposterous that Sen. Biden would be faced with these allegations,” said Toner, who was deputy chief of staff when Reade worked in the office. “I don’t remember her. I don’t remember this conversation. And I would remember this conversation.”
The Biden campaign issued a statement from Baker, Biden’s executive assistant from 1982 to 2000.
“I never once witnessed, or heard of, or received any reports of inappropriate conduct, period — not from Ms. Reade, not from anyone,” she said. “I have 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.”
Melissa Lefko, a former staff assistant for Biden from 1992 to 1993, said she did not remember Reade. But she recalled that Biden’s office was a “very supportive environment for women” and said she had never experienced any kind of harassment there.
“When you work on the Hill, everyone knows who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, and Biden was a good guy,” she said.
Reade said that she could not remember the exact time, date or location of the assault but that it occurred in a “semiprivate” place in the Senate office complex.
A friend said that Reade told her about the alleged assault at the time, in 1993. A second friend recalled Reade telling her in 2008 that Biden had touched her inappropriately and that she’d had a traumatic experience while working in his office. Both friends agreed to speak to The Times on the condition of anonymity to protect the privacy of their families and their self-owned businesses.
Reade said she also told her brother, who has confirmed parts of her account publicly but who did not speak to The Times, and her mother, who has since died.
At the time of the alleged assault, Reade said she was responsible for coordinating interns in the office. Two former interns who worked with her said they never heard her describe any inappropriate conduct by Biden or saw her directly interact with him in any capacity but recalled that she abruptly stopped supervising them in April, before the end of their internship. Others who worked in the office at the time said they remembered Reade but not any inappropriate behavior.
Friends and former co-workers describe Reade as friendly, caring, compassionate and trustworthy, though perhaps a bit naive. A single mother, she changed her name for protection after leaving an abusive marriage in the late 1990s and put herself through law school in Seattle. After leaving Biden’s office, she eventually returned to the West Coast, where she worked for a state senator; as an advocate for domestic violence survivors, testifying as an expert witness in court; and for animal rescue organizations.
During her time in Biden’s office, he was working to pass the Violence Against Women Act, which Biden has described as his “proudest legislative accomplishment.” In 2017, Reade retweeted praise for Biden and his work combating sexual assault. In more recent months, her feed has featured support for Sanders and criticism of Biden.
Reade said she did not disclose the sexual assault allegation last year when she spoke out because she was scared. After her initial complaints were reported last year by a local California newspaper, Reade said she faced a wave of criticism and death threats as well as accusations that she was a Russian agent because of Medium posts and tweets, several of which are now deleted, that she had written praising President Vladimir Putin.
Reade said that she was not working for Russia and did not support Putin and that her comments were pulled out of context from a novel she was writing at the time.
“It was trying to smear me and distract from what happened, but it won’t change the facts of what happened in 1993,” she said.
She called her praise for Putin “misguided.”
Reade tried to get legal and public relations support from the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, an initiative established by prominent women in Hollywood to fight sexual harassment. Her outreach to the group was first reported by The Intercept.
As it has for thousands of people who have contacted the group, the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which does not represent clients, gave her a list of lawyers with expertise in such cases. She said she contacted every single one, but none took her case. Two lawyers confirmed speaking to Reade but declined to comment on the record about her or the allegation.
SKDKnickerbocker, the political consulting firm where Biden’s chief strategist, Anita Dunn, works as a managing director, has a contract with the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. Dunn has never worked with the fund, and her firm was not told of Reade’s request, according to officials at the fund.
Reade also contacted at least one of the women who spoke out along with her last year about Biden’s penchant for physical contact.
Lucy Flores, a former Nevada state assemblywoman who accused Biden of making her uncomfortable by kissing and touching her during a 2014 campaign event, exchanged a few emails last year with Reade but said Reade did not share her full story.
“Biden is not just a hugger,” Flores said. “Biden very clearly was invading women’s spaces without their consent in a way that made them feel uncomfortable. Does he potentially have the capacity to go beyond that? That’s the answer everyone is trying to get at.”