In his more than four decades in Washington, D.C., Joe Biden has employed hundreds of staffers, advisers, and interns. Tara Reade was one of them. The former Senate staffer has accused Biden of sexual assault in the early ’90s and says she was fired after reporting the incident. Biden denies her allegation but acknowledged this week that some voters may not believe him. He said that, if that’s the case, they shouldn’t cast their ballot for him.
“I think they should vote their heart. And if they believe Tara Reade, they probably shouldn’t vote for me. I wouldn’t vote for me if I believed Tara Reade,” Biden said during an MSNBC virtual town hall.
On Friday, PBS NewsHour offered some new information for voters to consider, publishing the results of its interviews with 74 former Biden staffers, 62 of them women, who worked for him between 1972 and 2016. The interviews focused on Biden’s behavior toward women, the culture in his office, and how the former staffers perceive Reade’s allegations. Reporters Lisa Desjardins and Daniel Bush write that none of the people interviewed described experiencing or even hearing about sexual misconduct from Biden. Many said they do not believe Reade’s allegation but acknowledged that their positive experience with Biden does not prove she’s lying.
Doug Wigdor, Reade’s attorney, said it was “not surprising” that some former staffers have cast doubt on her claims, noting they may have personal or political reasons for backing Biden’s account.
Here, what we learned from the report:
A former staffer says Reade was fired for poor performance
Contrary to Reade’s claim that she lost her job after complaining about Biden’s behavior, a former staffer for the then-senator told NewsHour that Reade was fired for poor performance. Ben Savage, who said he sat next to Reade in the mailroom, said she struggled processing constituent mail, a key part of her job.
“Of all the people who held that position, she’s the only one during my time there who couldn’t necessarily keep up or who found it frustrating,” Savage said.
Wigdor told NewsHour that Reade does not remember Savage, and her firing had nothing to do with performance. “Ms. Reade recalls that there was a lot of nitpicking regarding her performance in the office,” he wrote in an email. “She was also very nervous at that point and distracted so it is possible that from time to time there was a mistake made …”
It’s still unclear where the alleged assault might have taken place
Reade says the alleged assault took place while she was delivering a gym bag to Biden along the indoor route between his office and the Capitol. Her lawyer specified to NewsHour that it happened “in a semiprivate area like an alcove” located “somewhere between the Russell [building] and/or Capitol building.” Reade previously described the assault taking place in a “side area.”
The reporters set out to find a place matching that description and came up empty:
It is a roughly 10-minute walk that consists of one flight of stairs and one long hallway inside the Russell Building, followed by a wide tunnel through which he could walk or take an internal subway train to the Capitol.
The layout of that route and building has not changed. A recent walk through that area showed the subway tunnel contains no out-of-view areas, like an alcove. The remaining portion of the route includes multiple stairwells as well as corridors lined with offices. It is a main thoroughfare for senators and staffers.
They also noted it’s a heavily trafficked area:
Some former staffers told the NewsHour that if Biden did assault Reade in any of these places, it would have been a brazen attack in an area with a high risk of being seen.
“When I worked in the Senate, it was always crowded [and] packed with lobbyists, staff and tourists,” said Sheila Nix, who was Biden’s chief of staff on the 2012 presidential campaign and previously worked as chief of staff to two other Democratic senators.
But, as Reade’s lawyer pointed out, survivors often have trouble recalling specifics of their assaults.
Staffers said it’s unlikely Reade would have been asked to serve drinks
Last year, Reade told a local paper in Nevada that she was told Biden wanted her to serve drinks at a fundraiser because he liked her legs. When she refused, she said, her career suffered.
Former Biden staffers tell NewsHour that it’s very unlikely Reade would have been asked to serve drinks at a fundraiser. Not just because Biden was careful not to involve his Senate staff in campaign events, but because he was conscious about not putting young women in those roles. Per the report:
… two men who worked as junior staffers for Biden said the senator specifically did not want women to serve beverages, like coffee, or perform other menial tasks in his Senate office or on the committees he chaired. Men were typically asked to perform such tasks.
Reade’s former co-worker recalls her saying she was admonished for the way she dressed
An anonymous former co-worker backed up Reade’s claim that a supervisor admonished her for dressing inappropriately at work. However, while Reade painted this as retaliation for her sexual-harassment complaint, the co-worker said the criticism of her attire was warranted. Per NewsHour:
A woman who worked with Reade, but who spoke to the NewsHour on the condition she not be named, said she remembers Reade mentioning that she was scolded for her attire and that Reade asked her if it was a legitimate complaint. That coworker and two other staffers who worked with Reade said they believe she was not appropriately dressed for work.
Biden was known for touching people, but not in a sexual manner
Ex-staffers told NewsHour that Biden’s reputation for touching people is well founded. He was known for massaging shoulders and kissing cheeks. Many said they found this behavior endearing and did not consider it sexual. But some said they see it in a somewhat different light following recent complaints from women about unwanted touching from Biden. Per NewsHour:
His behavior toward women can be “somewhat infantilizing,” the staffer said. “That doesn’t look like equality, right? But that was an expression of empathy, as opposed to flirtation.”
For others, Biden’s touching evoked some regret. “There were times as I now look back that I think we messed up. We should have said something about that,” a different former staffer said. “We probably should have recognized that made people uncomfortable.”
Many recall Biden treating female staffers well, but note that doesn’t nullify Reade’s claim
The vast majority of former staffers interviewed were women, and NewsHour reporters wrote that those who spent “countless hours” with him in “one-on-one settings” said “he never made passes at them or behaved in other ways that suggested sexual impropriety.” He was also known for having women-friendly office policies.
Still, the reporters wrote, the ex-staffers “said they believed Reade should be heard and acknowledged that their experiences do not disprove her accusation.”