NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE T ara Reade accuses Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her in 1993, when she was a 29-year-old staff assistant in his Senate office. Democrats, Biden included, are flagrant hypocrites about the standard used to judge these sorts of allegations; under Biden’s own standard, as applied to Brett Kavanaugh, he’s guilty. But those of us who argued for a careful look at the actual evidence in the Ford–Kavanaugh controversy have an obligation to do the same with Reade and Biden.
Let’s tune out the hypocrites, set aside the media criticism, and dig into the evidence as it stands. I’ll note for comparison where this case parallels — and diverges from — the Kavanaugh case. I’ll also address some of the specific credibility questions raised in three articles arguing against Reade’s claims, by libertarian writer Cathy Young and Democratic partisan Michael Stern, who were on opposite sides of the Kavanaugh case, as well as by Michael Tracey, whose idiosyncratic politics defy concise description.
Buckle up. This is rough stuff, but it’s worth a hard and skeptical examination from all sides. It is vital to keep asking, “If it happened, does this make sense?” It is also vital to keep asking, “If it didn’t happen, does this make sense?”
Sexual Victims, Sexual Stories
A few things should be common ground.
- Most allegations of sexual predation (whether assault, abuse, or harassment) are true; false accusations are the exception, not the rule.
- Some accusations of sexual predation are untrue or exaggerated, for any number of reasons: faulty memory, personal or political grudges, a desire for money or fame, mental illness.
- Many cases of sexual predation — maybe a majority — are never even reported. This is why advocates for victims have pressed for a more understanding approach that encourages women and other victims to come forward.
We start with the reality that claims such as Reade’s are usually true in general, but could be false in the specific case. So, we fall back on one of our society’s bedrock values: A man in Biden’s position should be treated as innocent until proven guilty and not be branded as a sexual predator if the evidence does not meet the burden of proof. What burden? In a political campaign, I’d suggest we use a preponderance of the evidence (“more likely than not”) or maybe “clear and convincing evidence,” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” as we would in a criminal courtroom. But, at a minimum, the burden of proof is on the accuser.
Ultimately, however, it may be that in a case such as this one — 27 years after the fact — we can never know what happened. Also, remember an unpleasant reality. We typically judge testimony based on demeanor, behavior, and character. Some witnesses seem like people we would normally believe in our daily lives. Those who are inconsistent, shaky, shifty, or emotionally volatile, we tend to discount.
These are healthy instincts, but they can mislead us when dealing with victims of sexual violence — sometimes, with victims of sexual harassment. Traumatic events can leave scars on people, fueling behavior that is secretive, mistrustful, melodramatic, or self-destructive. In other words: genuine victims of sexual predation often behave in ways that make them less credible as witnesses. There is no easy answer to that paradox, but it is why we look hard for independent evidence that corroborates or debunks their testimony to spare us a pure he-said-she-said.
Reade’s allegation first aired in an interview with left-wing journalist Katie Halper:
[T]he scheduler called me in and said, I want you to take this to Joe. He wants you to bring it, hurry. And I said, okay. And it was a gym bag . . . She said he was down towards the Capitol and “he’ll meet you.” And so I went down and he was at first talking to someone, I could see him at a distance and then they went away. And then, we were in like the side area. And he just said, Hey, come here, Tara. And then I handed him the thing and he greeted me, he remembered my name.
And it was the strangest thing. There was no like exchange really. He just had me up against the wall. I was wearing a shirt and a skirt but I wasn’t wearing stockings. It was kind of a hot day. And I was wearing heels and I remember my legs had been hurting from the marble of the Capitol, walking on it. So I remember that kind of stuff. I remember it was kind of an unusually warm day. And I remember he just had me up against the wall and the wall was cold. It happened all at once. The gym bag, I don’t know where it went. I handed it to him. It was gone and then his hands were on me and underneath my clothes.
And then he went down my skirt, but then up inside it and he penetrated me with his fingers. And he was kissing me at the same time and he was saying something to me . . . I can’t remember everything he said . . . him saying first before, like as he was doing it, “do you want to go somewhere else?” And then him saying to me when I pulled away, when he got finished doing what he was doing and I pulled back and he said, “come on man, I heard you liked me.” And it’s that phrase [that] stayed with me because I kept thinking what I might’ve said [to make him think that]. And I can’t remember exactly, if he said “I thought,” or “I heard,” but it’s like he implied I had done this.
The New York Times recounted what she told the paper:
He slid his hand up her cream-colored blouse . . . 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 . . . At the time, Ms. 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.’” Mr. Biden walked down the hallway, Ms. 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.
In Reade’s account, her recall of the moment and her feelings are vivid. Other details are not.
Where: Reade is vague on the precise location of the alleged assault. She places it in an alcove somewhere in the Capitol complex. A PBS NewsHour piece by Daniel Bush and Lisa Desjardins, drawn from interviews with former Biden staffers, contends that Reade’s description of the layout is physically impossible:
Biden’s Senate offices were in a prime location, bookending the second floor of the Russell Senate Office building, the closest to the U.S. Capitol. Reade’s attorney told the NewsHour that Reade recalls the assault happening “in a semiprivate area like an alcove” and that it was “somewhere between the Russell (building) and/or Capitol building.”
Reade’s description aligns with other staffers’ recollections of Biden’s short indoor route between his office and the Capitol. 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. 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.
Young likewise advances the floor-plan argument:
According to the most recent and damning version . . . Biden pushed her against a wall, kissed her, got his hand under her skirt and jammed his fingers inside her— all this in a public space in the Russell Senate Office Building, in a hallway where she had seen him talking to someone else moments earlier. (She claims that Biden steered her to a “side area,” but no one has been able to find an alcove or other space in the building’s hallways that would offer the required level of privacy.)
Reade’s account would be more credible if she could place the alleged assault in an identifiable location. This was a point of contention in Christine Blasey Ford’s story: She never identified an address or whose house the alleged assault occurred in, or how she got home. This is not necessarily decisive, however, so much as it is a reminder that memories in general are untrustworthy at a distance of a quarter century or more.
The Capitol and Senate building complexes are full of twists and turns and alcove-like places that can be secluded, even during business hours. Senators have their own little hideaway offices, which the NewsHour piece conspicuously ignores. If Reade took the direct route described by Biden staffers, she would not have encountered the kind of alcove she describes. But if we consider that she may have misremembered where the incident took place in the complex, her account is no longer implausible; it is just wrong on one detail. That detail is important, but by itself, it does not settle anything.
When: Reade is able to narrow down the timeframe only to a two-month window in April or May of 1993. Reade says that she was removed from her duties supervising interns after that, and two (unnamed) interns told the New York Times that she abruptly stopped supervising them in April. They knew the date because spring internships on the Hill typically ended at the end of April, and she was removed from supervisory duties before they left. This is the part of her story that is most directly corroborated by other witnesses, albeit anonymous ones.
The date range and corroboration are more specific than anything Blasey Ford offered. In that case, we had nothing to go on but a range of years in the early 1980s. Nonetheless, it still puts Biden in a position similar to that of Kavanaugh: He can’t really be expected to provide an alibi without a more specific time period.
What she wore: Reade says that it was a warm spring day, and she was wearing no stockings due to the heat, and crotchless panties because she was meeting her boyfriend later. Young finds the latter detail odd, though it seems broadly consistent with Reade’s recollection that she was sometimes “told to dress more conservatively” after “she later complained to others in the office that Biden would put his hands on her shoulder, neck, and hair during meetings in ways that made her uncomfortable.” She told Megyn Kelly that Marianne Baker, Biden’s assistant for three decades, specifically instructed her to wear longer skirts and button up her blouses more, but Reade also insists today that there was nothing unusual or objectionable about her regular attire.
What he said: Reade’s account of Biden’s remarks is a mixed bag. If you’ve watched Biden for some time, you can easily picture him saying “Come on man, I heard you liked me” and “You’re OK, you’re fine” and doing that thing where he grins when he’s angry. Then again, a staffer familiar with Biden’s mannerisms could just as easily imitate them in a made-up or embellished story. On the other hand, the cold “You’re nothing to me. Nothing” really does not sound, to my ears, like even the worst possible version of the Joe Biden we’ve known for decades. It feels like an added flourish.
How he acts: Is the entire incident believable? Biden has a very long rap sheet of being handsy. Multiple women have accused him of thoughtlessly invading their personal space, touching their necks, shoulders, and hair in uncomfortable ways. He’s a touchy-feely guy, even with men, sometimes in strange ways. It is not remotely implausible to imagine Biden treating Reade in that way, in that place, at that time. Many of Biden’s friends in the Senate were sexual predators, often shockingly brazen ones, and Biden had been among senators nearly all his adult life.
Biden also has a temper, which we have seen flash in some ugly ways, from his notorious 1987 “I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you” dress-down of reporters for lacking his (fabricated) academic credentials to 2020’s “Look, fat” and “lying, dog-faced pony soldier” rants at voters who dared contradict him.
That said, Joe Biden is a glad-handing people-pleaser, almost pathologically so. It’s not hard to picture him casually caressing an unconsenting woman, but it’s harder to picture him pinning a woman to the wall and jamming his hand up her skirt as an opening move. (“Several” of his other accusers told the Times that they believe Reade, as a matter of opinion, but none would go on the record). Sexual predators may be quite different from their public faces — think of Matt Lauer or Bill Cosby — but they typically have a pattern. Biden has a pattern, and this isn’t it. Reade may be telling the truth, but the break from the man’s known pattern should make us more skeptical.
The best evidence in any sexual assault case is direct, physical evidence of the act: videotape, rape kits, a stained dress. As is typical when allegations are surfaced decades after the fact, there is none of that here. Documentary evidence confirms that Reade worked for Biden from January to August 1993 — unlike Christine Blasey Ford, who was never able to corroborate that she had even met Brett Kavanaugh. Because Reade offers only general details about the day she says she brought a gym bag to Biden, however, there is presently no evidence placing them together on a specific day or time.
When She Complained
When dealing with an allegation that took 27 years to go public, the next questions are, “Why did she take so long?” and “Did she tell anybody else earlier?” Reade has answers for both of these questions, but again, they are far from ironclad.
Reade’s story is that she did, in fact, file a workplace complaint, but did not keep a copy, and nobody now can either find it or show that it was not filed. According to Reade, she first complained internally: to Baker, to her direct supervisor Dennis Toner, and to Biden’s chief of staff and appointed Senate successor, Ted Kaufman. Unsurprisingly, all of these longtime Biden loyalists deny everything. Stern accepts their denials without question of their motives — even as to Kaufman, whose present job is managing Biden’s presidential transition team. The San Luis Obispo Tribune printed a quote from Kaufman provided by the Biden campaign: “I do not remember her, and had she come to me in any of these circumstances, I would remember her. But I do not, because she did not.” NewsHour quotes Toner saying he has no memory of Reade: “I do not recall Tara being in the office. I can’t comment on why she would have left or anything like that.”
It is not entirely unbelievable that the people running a busy Senate office would not have remembered a staffer who lasted just a few months, but it is hard to put much weight on the denials by people who remember nothing. (The same goes for Biden himself, who of course has already destroyed one of his prior presidential runs by being a notorious fabulist). Only one Biden staffer has thus come forward, to NewsHour, who even admits to remembering Reade:
Ben Savage, who said his desk was next to Reade’s in the Biden mailroom, disputed her charge that she was forced out of her job in retaliation for a sexual harassment complaint she claims to have filed. 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. “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,” said Savage, who worked in the office for three years, from 1993 to 1996.
Reade says she then went to a friend in another Senate office, who told her to file a complaint with the Senate personnel office (not with Biden’s office). She says she did so, but word got back and she got stripped of most of her duties and banished to a windowless office.
By Reade’s own admission, what she filed was a more general complaint about being made uncomfortable, but one that did not allege sexual assault or use the explicit words “sexual harassment.” Those words were not as widely reached-for in the early 1990s, but they were very much the talk of American politics in 1991–93 following the Clarence Thomas hearings. Democrats had made the sexual harassment theme a key part of their 1992 Senate campaigns in Washington, Illinois, California, and Pennsylvania. It was very much the talk of the Hill when I interned in the House in the spring of 1992, a year before Reade did. Then again, Reade appears to have been a fairly unsophisticated person at the time.
Is her account implausible? No. She says she was rebuffed at every step, gave up, left town, and never went back. It does not seem out of character that she failed to save a copy of her complaint, as a young woman from a difficult background who clearly did not understand the system well and may have had trouble even managing a pedestrian task such as constituent mail. But again, the details may not disprove her account, but they also do not inspire confidence.
Whom Else She Told
There are multiple witnesses who appear to support Reade’s story, but in each case, they knew or know only what Reade told them.
Jeanette Altimus, Reade’s mother: Reade told CNN and the Times that she called her mother that day and told her everything, and that her mother was “adamant” that she file a police report. Altimus is dead now, but Reade says — and there appears to be nobody contradicting this — that it is her mother’s voice on a call to the Larry King show in August 11, 1993, five days after Reade’s employment records say that she left her job with Biden’s office. King was doing a segment on “Washington: The Cruelest City on Earth?” looking at the toxic work environment in D.C. politics and media. The caller was identified on the screen as calling from San Luis Obispo, Calif., where Altimus lived:
Caller: “Yes, 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.”
Larry King: “In other words, she had a story to tell but out of respect for the person she worked for, she didn’t tell it?”
Caller: “That’s true.”
Assuming that this is Altimus on the line, this is fairly solid evidence of the broad claim: Reade told her mother in 1993 that she had some sort of harassment-type problem in Biden’s office. It fits the timeline, and it fits Reade’s contention that her mother felt that she had been wronged without recourse. It does not, however, give us any detail on what Reade told her mother.
Collin Moulton, Reade’s brother: Moulton spoke to CNN and the Post, and in each case confirmed that Reade had told him about her issues with Biden at the time, in 1993. In his “recent” interview with the Post, he
said she had told him parts of her experience with Biden but not the alleged sexual assault. “I heard that there was a gym bag incident . . . and that he was inappropriate,” Moulton said. “I remember her telling me he said she was nothing to him.” A few days after that interview, Moulton sent the text saying he wanted to clarify his remarks. He wrote that he recalled Reade telling him in the early 1990s that Biden had cornered her and put his hands under her clothes . . . Their mother urged Reade to contact the police, Moulton said, adding that he felt “ashamed now for not being a better advocate” for his sister.
CNN talked to Moulton in late April, but its report was unclear on whether the whole interview was by text. He corroborated Reade having told both him and Altimus:
Reached by text message over the weekend, Moulton told CNN that Reade told him in the early 1990s that she had been asked to bring Biden his gym bag, and that in a private setting, he had cornered her against the wall and put his hands under her clothes. “My mom wanted her to go to the police,” he said. Moulton also said he remembered Reade telling him that she had been asked to serve drinks at an event for Biden because she had “nice legs,” and that Biden had touched her shoulders and neck.
He later spoke to Business Insider, repeating the same story. We don’t know much about Moulton’s credibility. Stern and Young note that Moulton failing to volunteer the whole story in his initial interview with the Post at least suggests the possibility that he had to be coached to support Reade’s account.
“Karen,” Reade’s friend in 1993: An unnamed friend of Reade’s has spoken to multiple media outlets on condition of anonymity (at least, it appears that it was the same woman who spoke to the Post, CNN, and Vox). Megyn Kelly refers to this friend pseudonymously in her interview as “Karen.” We’re told that Karen was a college student in 1993, interning for various Senate offices, including Ted Kennedy’s. Karen says that Reade told her several times about incidents with Biden that made her uncomfortable, and that Reade came to her within days to tell her about the alleged sexual assault.
Karen’s story, if believed, not only corroborates the claim that Reade has been telling her story in broadly consistent outlines for 27 years; she also supplies one reason why Reade’s story in 2020 is different from what she originally said publicly in 2019. Karen has refused to come forward publicly, fearing the public wringer of being a witness in a case such as this, and she now says that she advised Reade when coming forward to only talk about harassment, not assault. Karen herself, apparently in pursuit of this angle, originally told Vox that Biden “never tried to kiss her directly.” Reade’s account of hanging back from telling her whole story to skeptical reporters is more plausible if we believe that a friend was pushing her to seek safety in numbers by telling a story that went no further than what other women were saying about Biden at the time. It is, however, yet another small strike against both Reade and her anonymous friend.
Theodore Dronen, Reade’s ex-husband: Reade divorced her husband in 1996, charging domestic violence — which he admitted, though he contested the extent. She ultimately succeeded in terminating his parental rights, changed her name and even her Social Security number, and moved away with her daughter.
In a declaration submitted during the divorce, in which Dronen contested Reade’s application for a permanent restraining order, he testified that he had started dating Reade in the spring of 1993, and related what she told him:
On several occasions [Reade] related a problem that she was having at work regarding sexual harassment, in U.S. Senator Joe Biden’s office. [Reade] told me that she eventually struck a deal with the chief of staff of the Senator’s office and left her position . . . It was obvious that this event had a very traumatic effect on [Reade], and that she is still sensitive and effected by it today.
Dronen, whom Tracey identifies as a former legislative assistant for Democratic senator Kent Conrad, made no reference to a sexual assault, and did not specify who had harassed Reade. He had no motive to make any of this up; he was relating it in order to argue that her prior experience of harassment “color[ed] (Reade’s) perception and judgment” of her claims about their marriage. Dronen is — understandably, given his admission of wife-beating — unwilling to come forward today, emailing the Times: “Tara and I ended our relationship over two decades ago under difficult circumstances. I am not interested in reliving that chapter of my life.”
Lynda La Casse, Reade’s neighbor in 1995–96: La Casse is the best supporting witness that Reade has: She’s willing to come forward on the record, her story is consistent with what Reade says today, and she has no apparent motive to lie other than being a friend of Reade’s. La Casse is a self-described “strong Democrat” and “not a Bernie bro” who hates Trump and still plans to vote for Biden. Like the others, however, her account — given to Business Insider, and repeated to CNN and other outlets — goes to prove only what Reade told her nearly 25 years ago.
La Casse and Reade were neighbors during the time when Reade’s marriage was unraveling, and La Casse recalls that she gravitated towards Reade, being “. . . very well aware of abuse and I had experienced it myself quite a bit. I looked at Tara, because I would see her and I thought that Tara was an abused woman.” She recounts an evening conversation over cigarettes on their back porch in 1995 or 1996 (probably 1995, since Reade’s divorce was well underway by the spring of 1996):
Tara was out there and she was upset. . . . I remember her just, she was crying too when she was telling me about it. She really just told me, we were talking about violent stories, because I had a violent situation and she was telling me . . .
We just started talking about things and she just told me about the senator that she had worked for and how he, she was working for him and he put his hand up her skirt . . . I remember her saying, here was this person that she was working for, and she idolized him. And he kind of put her up against a wall. And he put his hand up her skirt and he put his fingers inside her. She felt like she was assaulted, and she really didn’t feel there was anything she could do . . . I didn’t really know who Joe Biden was, but she had worked for the senator. She told me his name, and she said that he had put her up against the wall. She was working for him at the time. He had put her up against the wall, and he had put his finger inside of her. She was talking about how dirty she felt . . . He put his hands up her skirt.
She was crying. She was upset. And the more she talked about it, the more she started crying. It devastated her . . . I remember saying that she needed to file a police report . . . And she said, “That’s what my mom told me.”
La Casse does not recall whether Reade told her any other details of the alleged incident.
The efforts by Stern, Young, and Tracey to bat down La Casse’s credibility are noticeably unconvincing. Stern notes that “telling a friend two or three years later is not contemporaneous,” which is true enough if the question is the reliability of details related by La Casse, but is irrelevant to the question of whether Reade invented the sexual-assault story in 2020 or told it to others decades ago. Young says that there are “big asterisks” around the accounts of Moulton and La Casse, but her case against La Casse is weak:
[La Casse] only remembered this conversation after Reade recently reminded her of it. In a May 1 interview on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! podcast, LaCasse said: “I didn’t know about all the stuff that was going on in the news. She told me about it last month. She called me, and she told me that she had decided to come forward with it. And I said—and she told me about the allegations. And I said, ‘Oh, yes, I remember that.’” . . . [W]as Reade simply jogging LaCasse’s memory, or pushing it in the direction she wanted?
It is certainly possible that La Casse’s recollection is infected by talking to Reade, but she is adamant: “I don’t remember all the details. I remember the skirt. I remember the fingers. I remember she was devastated.”
Tracey picks nits with how Reade has described whom she told, and asserts that “it seems a bit odd to ‘forget’ about being told by a friend that they had been backed into a wall and raped by a prominent US senator — who later went on to become vice president for eight years, and then run for president again.” But La Casse admittedly didn’t know at the time who Biden was; not everyone is that plugged into politics. Tracey also notes that La Casse thought Biden sounded believable on Morning Joe, but that only undercuts the claim that she is shading the truth for a friend.
Lorraine Sanchez, Reade’s co-worker in 1994–96: Sanchez, a co-worker in a California state-senate office in the mid-1990s, says that Reade told her “she had been sexually harassed by her former boss while she was in D.C . . . and as a result of her voicing her concerns to her supervisors, she was let go, fired.” Sanchez seems to have no obvious credibility issues (thus far), but her account does not reference sexual assault or point a finger at Biden specifically, so all she really adds is further proof that some elements of Reade’s story are longstanding.
Reade’s other unnamed friend: The Post reported:
Another friend of Reade’s said that in 2006 or 2007 Reade told her Biden had touched her arm and behaved inappropriately. She had no other details, she said, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of concern she might face online attacks.
Reade’s unnamed therapist: Reade told the Post that she told a therapist her story in 2020, but she has not named or produced the therapist or given notes to any media outlet. Given the other evidence, it would not prove much even if she did tell a therapist this year.
Taken together, the statements to the media by Moulton, La Casse, and “Karen,” combined with the reaction of Reade’s mother on the Larry King show, make a fairly compelling case that Reade has been telling people for many years that (1) she was pushed out of Joe Biden’s office after complaining about sexual harassment, and (2) she told several people close to her in 1993–96 the tale of sexual assault she tells now. I believe that she did, in fact, tell this story at the time, notwithstanding the fact that she gave the media a more limited version in 2019. I do not believe that Reade is just making all this stuff up now, in order to sabotage Biden. Her own, somewhat eccentric political journey (speaking warmly of Biden’s public causes; gushing about Vladimir Putin; supporting Marianne Williamson, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders; reportedly trying to shop her story to Warren, Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, all without response) is consistent with a rank-and-file Democrat without a strong ideological axe to grind, who has been nursing a personal grudge against Biden since 1993. If Reade is lying or embellishing this story, it seems far more likely that she has been doing so for over two decades.
Reade says she was triggered to come forward by Biden running a campaign on his character in contrast to Trump’s. That, too, rings true of someone with an old grudge. It’s exactly the response that John O’Neill, John Kerry’s old antagonist, had to the “reporting for duty” 2004 convention, or what led Hannibal Buress to reopen the old stories about Cosby.
Maybe Reade’s witnesses are closing ranks around her, though they are certainly not more motivated to do so than Biden’s longtime staffers are. Then again, there was no similar array of family and friends saying they heard Blasey Ford talk about Brett Kavanaugh within 30 years of her alleged assault. La Casse, in particular, appears to have been out of touch with Reade for two decades until 2016, and thus has less motive to insert herself in the story. Moreover, “Karen” provides an explanation — if we believe her — for why Reade initially told the media a more limited version of the story.
None of this necessarily means that Tara Reade’s story is true. But the evidence is fairly convincing that Reade’s story is not just a campaign-season invention.
Whom She’s Talking to Now
One point in Reade’s favor, in contrast to Blasey Ford, is how she has handled her accusation. She made (as Young notes) a few edits to one of her blog posts to tailor it more closely with her current story, but unlike Blasey Ford, she did not delete her social-media history to erase all traces of political rants (even the embarrassing Putin stuff) before coming forward. She was not initially rolled out by a public-relations firm and a partisan lawyer (though she has since retained an attorney who is a Trump donor). She has not hidden behind her representatives to carefully stage-manage who could talk to her, and under what conditions; while she has canceled a few interviews and seems hesitant to appear on Fox News, she has sat for lengthy questioning on and off air by a diverse array of outlets ranging from left-wingers such as Halper, to ex-Fox personality Kelly, to the Times, Post, CNN, the Associated Press, Vox, and National Review. Maybe Reade is enjoying the publicity, but she is not hiding from questioners.
This brings us to the last, most open-ended item: whether other, unrelated things in Reade’s background suggest that she is a woman of low character who should not be believed. This is another area in which Democrats and their allies have been hypocritical (they’d have burned alive anyone who wrote something like Natasha Korecki’s piece in Politico about Blasey Ford), but leave that aside: Common sense tells us that generally dishonest or unstable people are less reliable, and that highly excitable people are more likely to recount something in exaggerated terms.
This essay has gone on long enough without getting blow-by-blow into the various issues raised with Reade’s character by Young, Tracey, and Korecki, many of which are worth exploring if one is considering placing decisive weight on Tara Reade’s word. Young puts great store in a 2009 blog post in which Reade wrote, with names changed, about her ex-husband, and exaggerated or added many details to escalate the story from what she told the courts back in 1996. Reade has worked in the intervening years as a domestic-violence advocate and expert witness (her experience as an expert witness may explain her calm demeanor and ease speaking on camera). It is perhaps unsurprising that she would dramatize and even fictionalize details of her own abuse story writing many years later and describing her husband with a pseudonym, but it does not speak well of her credibility.
Tracey implies that Reade has accused too many people of abusing her in one lifetime, which may be the case, but some people do seem to get handed from one abuser to another, regardless of why that happens; Tracey does not actually show that any of the accusations were false.
Korecki’s piece is mostly an accumulation of people who felt victimized by Reade mooching off their sympathies with sob stories and stiffing them on bills. There’s also the story reported by Guy Benson of Reade being charged with passing a bad check in August 1993, just as she was leaving Biden’s office and, presumably, short of cash; the case seems to have been disposed of without a long-term record. Again, this is consistent with the picture of Reade as a corner-cutter at best, a low-rent grifter at worst.
Other attacks on her character seem less damaging. Writing mash notes about Vladimir Putin is terrible political judgment, but it doesn’t make you a liar. Reade has played up her connection to Biden at times, but he’s easily the most prominent person she’s ever worked for.
So, Did He Do It?
I wish I could reward you for reading this far with a clear conclusion: Did Biden do it? Unfortunately, I still don’t have an answer. My default assumption in cases such as this one is to ask whether it’s possible that the truth lies somewhere in between, and that may be the case here: that Reade really was sexually harassed or at least made to feel very sexually uncomfortable by Biden, and spun that over the years into something bigger, in part to gain sympathy and in part to cover her embarrassment at having been demoted and shoved out the door. Given the evidence of the people she told between 1993 and 1996, I do not think it likely that this is a story she just now invented in 2020. The suggestion in some quarters that she is some sort of Russian plant is just crackpot.
There’s nothing in the public record thus far that really debunks Reade’s claim and makes it unbelievable. If that were the standard, as it was for many critics of Kavanaugh, then Biden would be in deep trouble. Reade has more people in her corner than Blasey Ford did, and she hasn’t named a friendly witness who undercuts her story — as Blasey Ford’s friend Leland Keyser did. Her account is less vague than the one Blasey Ford told, and no more inconsistent. The man she accuses has an uncontested rap sheet for violating women’s boundaries.
But that’s not the standard. The burden of proof isn’t on the accused. And so long as it’s not, there are simply too many rough edges and too many questions to come away convinced that Reade’s story is true. Joe Biden, too, gets the benefit of the doubt that he would deny to others. Based on the evidence we have now, there is still too much doubt to publicly brand him a rapist.