When Tara Reade first made her assault allegation against Joe Biden, I thought the charge was more likely to be true than false. To be clear, I had no intention of changing my vote. The allegation came too late to reopen the nominating process without doing violence to the expressed will of the electorate. And I’ve always believed the primary criteria for voting on a candidate is their policy impact (which is why I wrote a column in 2018 defending Republicans who still supported Roy Moore over Doug Jones). But I did feel bad about voting for a candidate I suspected had done something terrible.
Since then, however, three detailed reports — by Vox’s Laura McGann, PBS NewsHour, and Politico’s Natasha Korecki — have delved into Reade’s allegations. Neither reaches a definitive conclusion. But all of them on balance add a lot of grounds for skepticism. At this point, Reade’s allegation seems to me to be more likely to be false than true.
McGann’s story recounts her yearlong effort to report on and corroborate Reade’s claims. The main problem she describes is that Reade dramatically changed her allegation. Reporters knew that Reade had previously described a culture of harassment without sexual assault, and then, in March, suddenly added a specific account of sexual assault. This didn’t prove her account was false: Sometimes survivors of sexual assault unroll elements of the offense over time. But McGann, by revisiting the two accounts and trying to understand the reason Reade changed them, zeroes in on two specific problems.
1. Reade’s account of why she changed her story seems not to be true. McGann describes her lengthy, and sympathetic, efforts to prove out Reade’s charge of sexual harassment. She was surprised when Reade claimed she had decided not to share the full story because reporters were shutting her down:
In a recent conversation, I asked Reade why she would say the media was shutting her down when she was initially so adamant with me (and other outlets) that this wasn’t a misconduct story. The only answer she gave was that she was speaking about the response to her claims “collectively.” And in her opinion, the added details still fit her construct that “this is not a story about sexual misconduct,” because, she told me, sexual assault itself is about power.
If you follow the entire account of McGann’s contact with Reade, this is a little hard to swallow.
2. Reade’s friend admitted to lying to a reporter to fit Reade’s narrative. McGann spoke with one Reade friend, who told her last year that Biden had harassed Reade but had definitely not sexually assaulted her:
Last year, Reade encouraged me to speak with a friend of hers who counseled her through her time in Biden’s office in 1992 and 1993. The friend was clear about what had happened, and what hadn’t.
“On the scale of other things we heard, and I feel ashamed, but it wasn’t that bad. [Biden] never tried to kiss her directly. He never went for one of those touches. It was one of those, ‘sorry you took it that way.’ I know that is very hard to explain,” the friend told me. She went on: “What was creepy was that it was always in front of people.”
After Reade changed her allegation, McGann circled back to the friend, who explained that she had said something the friend knew to be false because Reade “wanted to leave a layer there”:
I spoke with Reade’s friend again this week. She said that Reade had told her about the alleged assault the week it happened in 1993. I asked the friend why, then, did she volunteer so explicitly that Biden “never tried to kiss her” or touch her inappropriately. “It just organically rolled out that way,” the friend said. “[Reade] and I had many conversations a year ago about what her degree of comfort was. She wanted to leave a layer there, and I did not want to betray that. It just wasn’t my place.”
Omitting a relevant detail to protect your friend is one thing. Adding false detail is another.
PBS NewsHour’s report turns up several more problems.
3. All 74 Biden staffers NewsHour contacted did not know of any sexual assault. Of the 74 former Biden staffers NewsHour spoke with, 62 were female. “None of the people interviewed said that they had experienced sexual harassment, assault, or misconduct by Biden,” it reported, “All said they never heard any rumors or allegations of Biden engaging in sexual misconduct, until the recent assault allegation made by Tara Reade.”
Many of these former Biden staff might have an incentive to lie for Biden, especially if they’re still active in Democratic politics. But NewsHour said only “some” remain politically active, while “others left long ago to pursue other careers.”
To be sure, the vast majority are probably sympathetic to Biden’s candidacy. But the unanimity of their recollections suggests that Biden was not a habitual predator. If he assaulted Reade, she was almost certainly the only staffer he preyed upon in such a fashion.
4. The physical geography does not line up with Reade’s claim. Her lawyer described the scene of the alleged assault as “a semiprivate area like an alcove” between the Russell building and the Capitol. NewsHour walked the route between those buildings and found “no out-of-view areas, like an alcove.” There are stairwells, which is not so different from an alcove that it’s impossible Reade mistook it for one. But NewsHour describes the route as a “main thoroughfare,” making it at least a somewhat unlikely location for a sexual assault.
5. The fundraiser claim sounds shaky. Reade has said she was told to serve drinks at a fundraiser in Washington. However, several former staffers recalled Biden avoided events in Washington and rushed to catch a train back to Delaware every night (a fact about Biden that is widely known). Others recalled an office policy forbidding his Senate staff from doing campaign work.
And two male staffers said Biden specifically did not want young staffers to be seen doing menial tasks such as serving drinks. “He didn’t want an image of a young woman staffer serving him,” one said.
None of these sources could conclusively state that Reade was never assigned to serve drinks at a Washington fundraiser. But that claim is deeply at odds with the general practices they observed.
6. One colleague recalls she was fired for cause. The most explosive detail in NewsHour’s report comes from Ben Savage, a former co-worker who sat next to Reade in the mailroom:
Savage, who worked as the office’s systems administrator, overseeing computers and information processing, told the NewsHour that Reade was fired for her poor performance on the job, which he witnessed — not as retaliation for her complaints about sexual harassment.
But according to Savage, Reade had been mishandling a key part of her job and an essential office task — processing constituent mail, something they worked on together. Savage said he recalls reporting these issues to his boss, deputy chief of staff Dennis Toner. After that, Savage said he began diminishing Reade’s duties, taking over some of her tasks and rerouting parts of the process to exclude her.
Savage’s recollection calls into question not only Reade’s explosive second allegation of sexual assault, but also her first allegation. And it would supply a motive for her to have lied to friends in the 1990s: If she was embarrassed for having been fired, she had a reason to have concocted a false account of what ended her employment. Her contemporaneous recounting of the assault at the time is the strongest piece of evidence. It is the primary reason to believe Reade’s story might still be true. But it seems less dispositive given that another contemporaneous recollection both disputes its specific claim about her reason for firing, and supplies a plausible reason why she would have misled friends about it at the time.
7. Many people who know Reade do not trust her. Korecki’s reporting for Politico does not address the Biden allegations directly, except insofar as it recounts the way she discussed Biden over the years (often very positively.) The main takeaway is that Reade seems to lie to people frequently. In particular, she preys upon their sympathy to take advantage of their good nature. She has abused the goodwill of landlords and neighbors in this way, repeatedly, leaving them to see her as a dishonest person. It’s possible a person with these qualities could have been sexually assaulted, but the pattern certainly has bearing on her credibility.
Again, none of this constitutes proof. It is possible more evidence will be found to either strengthen or weaken the basis of her claim. But the reporting by McGann and NewsHour collectively adds a fair amount of weight to the scale. Wherever you stood beforehand, there has to be at least somewhat more doubt now.
This post has been updated to include Politico’s reporting.