Political News

How Joe Biden's response to the Tara Reade allegations hit a Senate snag

Posted May 4, 2020 3:22 p.m. EDT

— At the center of Tara Reade's sexual assault allegation against former Vice President Joe Biden is a complaint she says she filed with a personnel office on Capitol Hill around the time of the alleged incident in the early 1990s. Reade says she doesn't have a copy of the document and doesn't remember where and to whom, specifically, she filed it.

As part of his sweeping denial of any sort of inappropriate behavior with Reade, Biden sought to cast himself as bending over backward to be transparent about the existence of any such complaints.

"There is only one place a complaint of this kind could be -- the National Archives," Biden said in a statement released last Friday. "The National Archives is where the records are kept at what was then called the Office of Fair Employment Practices. I am requesting that the Secretary of the Senate ask the Archives to identify any record of the complaint she alleges she filed and make available to the press any such document. If there was ever any such complaint, the record will be there."

Except, well, there's a problem.

Because the secretary of the Senate -- Julie Adams -- released a statement on Monday that makes clear she can't legally do what Biden is asking. "The Secretary has no discretion to disclose any such information as requested in Vice President Biden's letter of May 1," she wrote.

Now, do I think the Biden team knew that the secretary of the Senate couldn't legally ask the National Archives for any personnel paperwork related to Reade when the candidate put out his statement on Friday? I don't. (Yes, many conservatives would disagree -- insisting Biden and his campaign knew this was a dead end.)

But whether or not they knew that the secretary of the Senate wouldn't comply with the request actually doesn't even matter all that much at this point. Because the fact, now, is this: Biden has a transparency problem. And here's why.

The Biden campaign responded to the secretary of the Senate on Monday, with attorney Bob Bauer asking the office to answer whether the existence of records is also confidential, whether there is anyone the records could be lawfully disclosed to, such as Reade, and whether the Senate could release what the procedures in 1993 would have been in handling a complaint like Reade's.

With the National Archives potentially not an option in terms of finding the alleged Reade complaint, attention will, rightly, turn to the University of Delaware, where Biden's voluminous Senate papers are currently held. The problem? Neither Biden nor the University seems willing to open up the records.

"The papers from my Senate years that I donated to the University of Delaware do not contain personnel files," Biden said in that statement last Friday. "It is the practice of Senators to establish a library of personal papers that document their public record: speeches, policy proposals, positions taken, and the writing of bills."

And a spokeswoman for the university told CNN this:

"The University of Delaware received the Biden Senatorial Papers as a gift from Vice President Biden. We are currently curating the collection, a process that we estimate will carry at least into the spring of 2021. As the curating process is not complete, the papers are not yet available to the public, and we are not able to identify what documents or files can be found within the collection."

So, if there can be no arrangement, then we are at an impasse. Which is bad news for Biden. Because the only way this story goes away is if people become convinced that he has done absolutely everything he can to be as transparent as humanly possible.

This, from The New York Times editorial board over the weekend, makes that reality plain:

"Any serious inquiry must include the trove of records from Mr. Biden's Senate career that he donated to the University of Delaware in 2012. Currently, those files are set to remain sealed until after Mr. Biden retires from public life — a common arrangement. There are growing calls for Mr. Biden to make those records available to see if they contain any mention of Ms. Reade or perhaps others who raised similar complaints about his behavior."

(Worth noting: That editorial was written before we knew that the secretary of the Senate would not -- or could not -- ask the National Archives for any personnel files related to Reade.)

Biden's path forward here is plain: Ask the University of Delaware to open his papers and search for anything related to Reade in any way, shape or form. If Biden is right that there are no personnel matters in his Senate papers, then this is a simple ask since nothing about Reade will be found!

And if nothing is found -- and the secretary of the Senate continues to say her hands are tied, legally speaking -- then Biden can say, with full confidence, that he has done everything in his power to prove that the Reade allegations are simply untrue. Unless and until Biden takes that step with the University of Delaware, he will continue to face questions about whether he is being fully transparent.

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.