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What we know about a sexual assault allegation against Joe Biden

A woman has come forward alleging that former Vice President Joe Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993, when she was an employee in his Senate office. Biden, poised to become the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, has faced criticism in the past over unwanted touching of women. Amna Nawaz talks to The New York Times’ Lisa Lerer for details of the story and what it means for Biden’s candidacy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to the race for the White House.

    A former U.S. Senate employee has come forward alleging former Vice President Joe Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993.

    Our Amna Nawaz has the story.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Thanks, Judy.

    I'm joined now by Lisa Lerer. She's a reporter at The New York Times who has been covering this accusation against Mr. Biden. And she joins me now.

    Lisa, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So, we should note, you have been reporting on the Biden campaign on some allegations over a year ago about inappropriate touching, him making women feel uncomfortable. That was over a year ago.

    And Tara Reade was among the women you talked to back then. This allegation we're talking about now is different. It's a much more serious allegation. I'd like you to lay out, what is the incident that she alleges happened back in 1993?

  • Lisa Lerer:

    So her allegation now is that, basically, when she was a young staffer working in then Senator Biden's Senate office in the spring of 1993, she was asked by a supervisor to bring the senator like an athletic bag.

    She tracked him down in the Capitol complex of buildings. She doesn't remember what day it was or where exactly she tracked her down. She handed him the bag. And Biden pushed her up against the wall and basically started kissing her and sexually assaulted her.

    This is a — this is not something she talked about a year ago, when I talked to her and when other reporters talked to her. And she spoke publicly. Then it was more about sexual harassment while she was working in the office.

    So this is, as you point out, a new and quite serious allegation.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We should note too, in response to previous reporting on this in your reporting, Kate Bedingfield from the Biden campaign responded to say: "The claim is absolutely untrue. It absolutely didn't happen."

    And she cited, of course, vice presidents — Vice President Biden's record in serving women and women's causes.

    But he also says that women should be heard and heard respectfully.

    You have mentioned you interviewed Tara.

    I want to play just a quick clip of that moment in which you were asking her about this incident. Here is Tara Reade in her own words.

  • Tara Reade:

    It happened at once. And that's what's so hard about telling this story.

    Like, he's talking to me and his hands are everywhere. And everything's happening at once very quickly. This happened, like, in under two minutes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Lisa, our job, of course, as journalists, is, you assess the credibility, you corroborate the story.

    What were you able to confirm and not confirm about what Tara Reade told you?

  • Lisa Lerer:

    So, Tara Reade had a friend that she told at the time who I spoke with, who was able to confirm most of the details that Tara had told me.

    She also said she's — she told her mother at the time. Her mother's deceased, so, obviously, I couldn't speak to her. She told a friend many, many years later in 2008 some of the details, and she also told her brother some of the details. Both of those people confirmed what they had heard, which were not really the full extent of the story, but some version.

    But I also talked to dozens of people who worked in Biden's office, both with Tara in 1992 and 1993, and the years around that period. And none of those people recall seeing anything like this or even rumors of any kind of sexual assault.

    They said, in fact, the office was considered a really great place for women to work on Capitol Hill, at a time when not all offices were as hospitable to women. And there were women in senior roles. And many of them felt that this was just really out of character with the Joe Biden they knew then and the Joe Biden they know now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Lisa, you have mentioned you had obviously spoken to her almost a year ago, and she didn't share this allegation with you then.

    Obviously, we know women sometimes don't even come forward at the time of their assaults to report them. But when you talked to her later, did she say why she chose to wait many, many months before coming forward in another interview to share this incident?

  • Lisa Lerer:


    So that was my first question to her when I called her back, as you can imagine. And what she said was, her first set of allegations, which were really printed only in a very local paper in Northern California, where she lives, after that, she had a wave of harassment online, she got death threats, and she just got really scared.

    And she didn't want to bring up these more serious allegations without having some kind of protection, either security or a lawyer or a P.R. person, somebody to help her manage the incoming flow of things on social media and other places.

    She reached out to many, many lawyers and could not get anyone to take her case. As a result, she ended up talking to a woman who had a podcast on "Rolling Stone" who's a well-known supporter of Bernie Sanders, and first telling her story of sexual assault on that podcast.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Lisa, we should point out you have faced criticism, many in the media have faced criticism for not allegedly going after this claim as aggressively as, say, maybe the claims against Brett Kavanaugh.

    We're looking at the man who's likely going to be the Democratic nominee. So where does this go from here?

  • Lisa Lerer:

    Well, I think we're going to continue to see some outlets review this story.

    And then I just have to — I think we have to wait and see what happens. Notably, President Trump has been fairly silent, completely silent on these allegations, although some around him have not. And they have — they have sent out tweets and other messages about them.

    But I think everything is really overshadowed by coronavirus right now. So, the question will be, as we move into the fall campaign, do these allegations get more traction? Are there more accusations that come out?

    Or is this sort of all that's out there? Because there's no real pattern for Joe Biden's in terms of sexual assault. Right now, this is the only allegation against him. Generally, in these kinds of cases, you look for that kind of pattern. We're not seeing that here.

    So, I think we just have to see how the campaign unfolds, which will have a lot to do, in fact, with how the virus unfolds.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Lisa Lerer of The New York Times joining us tonight.

    Thanks, Lisa.

  • Lisa Lerer:


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