On April 3, 2019, Tara Reade, a former staff assistant who worked briefly in Joe Biden's Senate office in the early 1990s, told a reporter from The Union paper in California that Biden had touched her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable, by putting his hand on her shoulder and neck. Just under a year later, on March 25, 2020, Reade gave a very different account of events. Appearing on a podcast with Katie Halper, Reade claimed that Biden slammed her against a wall, put his hand under her skirt, forced her legs apart, and penetrated her with his fingers.
The account immediately garnered national attention, with headlines in major newspapers and frequent coverage on news networks. In particular, Reade’s story was heavily supported by The Intercept reporter Ryan Grim and by that organization’s cofounder, Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald’s support for Reade included multiple appearances on Fox News and an article for Fox in which he argued that Reade “was not going away.”
Except she did. On Tuesday, Reade appeared on Russian state media to announce that she was defecting to Russia. In a statement delivered while sitting next to convicted Russian spy Marina Butina, Reade claimed that she no longer felt safe in America, but “luckily the Kremlin is accommodating.” Which is understandable, considering that Reade began supporting Putin well before she made her claims about Biden.
When they first appeared in the media, Reade’s accusations were shocking. Soon after appearing on Halper’s program, Reade filed a police report stating that she had been sexually assaulted in 1993. As with all such claims, the first response was, and should be, to take them seriously and start from an assumption that the victim is just that: someone who was on the receiving end of an assault for which they shared no blame.
Reade’s statements were taken seriously in the national media. Other women who had been subject to sexual assault and harassment spoke up in her support. That she had waited 27 years to file a report created some doubt, but since Reade had been a young woman dealing with a man in a powerful position, many expressed understanding at her delay. In Reade’s case, she is also a single parent and documented victim of domestic violence, which could certainly reinforce both fear and reticence.
Attention to Reade’s statements increased following a report in The New York Times where Reade provided an even more detailed account of Biden’s reported assault. That article also included a single sentence saying that “A friend said that Ms. Reade told her about the alleged assault at the time, in 1993.” Such contemporaneous accounts are vital to proving many cases of sexual assault and are often considered the best form of evidence. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called concerns about the assault described by Reade “significant and relevant.”
However, soon after Reade spoke out, there were a growing number of reasons to doubt her statements. Many of those who worked on Capitol Hill noted that the area where Reade claimed the assault took place was public and highly trafficked by both members of Congress and their staff. Reade was insistent that the area was “semi-private,” but couldn’t provide a clear location or a time—something that would have allowed her account to be checked against Biden’s calendar.
Reade claimed that she had reported the assault to three members of Biden’s staff. All three of those former staffers denied any such conversation. Those staff members didn’t just deny it in an “I don’t recall” manner; they denied it in a way that left little doubt that, in their opinion at least, Reade was not being truthful. Broader interviews of other staff members at the time, including interns who had worked with Reade, found no one who supported her claims.
Eventually NPR interviewed 74 former staffers for Biden, 62 of whom were women. Their statements were consistent when it came to Biden's actions while in the Senate.
None of the people interviewed said that they had experienced sexual harassment, assault or misconduct by Biden. All said they never heard any rumors or allegations of Biden engaging in sexual misconduct, until the recent assault allegation made by Tara Reade.
As with all such reports, it’s critical to neither blame the victim or engage in an effort to drag up events from their past as a means of diminishing their testimony. However, writing in USA Today, columnist Michael Stern looked through Reade’s claims and found several other reasons for doubt. That included a claim by Reade that she had filed a complaint with the Senate personnel office. No one at that office could find a complaint and Reade could not produce a copy of the complaint.
When it came to how she left Biden’s office, Reade told a shifting series of stories, including claiming she left voluntarily after Biden demeaned her by asking her to serve drinks at a campaign event. On other occasions, Reade claimed she had been fired in retaliation after filing the official complaint. In NPR’s extensive interviews, other staffers reported that she had been fired for poor job performance, and specifically for failing to properly handle constituent mail.
When Politico interviewed a number of people who knew Reade, either as acquaintances or former coworkers, their report was even less flattering. They described a pattern of behavior in which Reade “ingratiated herself” to people, then borrowed money, skipped out on payments, or walked away from bills. One description was of a “‘manipulative, deceitful, user.”
When it was all assembled, none of the people in Biden’s office supported Reade’s claims, and there was no record of her Senate complaint. Her past acquaintances reported multiple instances of deception. Not a great start. And when Reade provided The New York Times an extended list of people she claimed had been told about the assault shortly after it occurred, not one of them recalled any such conversation.
All of this only made Reade a better subject for those like Grim and Greenwald, who pitched the whole thing as a massive conspiracy of silence around Biden. Efforts to do so included pushing a clip from a woman phoning “The Larry King Show” in 1993 who claimed her daughter had “a problem with a prominent senator,” but chose not to go to the press “out of respect for him.” This anonymous call was paraded out as Reade’s mother, with Greenwald promoting this as a “bombshell” against Biden.
But every look into Reade consistently showed one thing: Until 2017, she regularly praised Biden, supported him on social media, and promoted his ongoing work to combat sexual assault.
Those statements alone are, of course, not any sort of condemnation of Reade or her story. It’s common that women who have been assaulted by men in prominent positions may feel compelled to continue supporting that man in public out of fear for how it may affect their lives or careers in the future. Speaking out against that kind of pressure was the very essence of the #MeToo movement.
What’s different in Reade’s case is that, somewhere in the 2017-2018 period, it appeared her views on a number of subjects did a 180-degree flip—in particular, her views on Russia and on the United States. Over that period, she went from writing and “liking” statements that spoke out against Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his actions in the 2016 election to dismissing those actions entirely and turning her fire on the “imperialism” of the United States.
In November 2018, Reade authored an article for Medium titled “Why a liberal Democrat supports Vladimir Putin.” In it, she declared that America is “not a democracy at all but a corporate autocracy.” She praised Putin for bringing order to Russia, for his “political genius,” and for how he looked “with or without a shirt”
President Putin has an alluring combination of strength with gentleness. His sensuous image projects his love for life, the embodiment of grace while facing adversity. It is evident that he loves his country, his people and his job. … President Putin’s obvious reverence for women, children and animals, and his ability with sports is intoxicating to American women.
By the time she made her accusations against Biden, Reade had deleted the Medium article (the link above is through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine). When confronted with these quotes, she claimed that they had been “taken out of context from a novel she was writing.” Which was, simply enough, a lie.
At this point in her domestic politics, Reade had turned away from Biden, bounced off at least two other campaigns, and was all in for Bernie Sanders. Members of Sanders’ team helped to push Reade’s claims, and the broad coalition who saw this as an opportunity to weaken Biden in the primaries pressed the idea that anyone who had ever expressed faith in claims by another woman, but cast doubt on Reade, was a hypocrite.
However, by May, Reade’s own attorney dropped her after it emerged that she had also lied about many aspects of her background, including her fictional college degrees and claims that she had been a faculty member at Antioch College. The Intercept slogged on, with Grim trying to extract some aspect of the story that could be used to defend their earlier promotion. But most publications simply allowed the Reade story to fade away, the lengthening number of false claims and the lack of evidence ultimately weakening her accusations against Biden.
Reade continued to be a frequent guest on right-wing media over the past three years, including an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s program in 2022. Carlson was, of course, highly supportive. Following her appearance on Sputnik, during which she made a litany of complaints about America (including that American roads are too bumpy) and “humbly” asked for Putin to “to fast track her citizenship request,” some media outlets continued to support Reade.
No one should expect Greenwald, The Intercept, or anyone else on the right to apologize for spending years pushing an ugly story for no other purpose than to harm Joe Biden. Meanwhile, Russian state media is already using Reade as a source in attacking U.S. policies and the U.S. military. She’s working for them now—just like she was in 2020.
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