In an exclusive Democracy Now! TV/radio broadcast, we speak with Tara Reade, the former staffer in Joe Biden’s Senate office who has come forward with allegations that Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993. Last week, The Intercept reported that the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, set up to help survivors of rape and sexual assault, refused to fund a #MeToo investigation into allegations against Biden. Reade told journalist Katie Halper in an interview published Tuesday that Biden repeatedly touched her without her consent and sexually assaulted her. Reade approached the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund in January looking for assistance, but was reportedly told the fund could not help her because Biden is a candidate for federal office, and pursuing a case could jeopardize the fund’s nonprofit status. Reade says she learned from The Intercept report that the public relations firm representing Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund is SKDKnickerbocker, whose managing director, Anita Dunn, is top adviser to Biden’s presidential campaign.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn now to new developments in sexual assault allegations made against presidential candidate Joe Biden. Last week, The Intercept reported Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, set up to help survivors of rape and sexual assault, refused to fund a #MeToo investigation into allegations against Biden. The charges were brought by Tara Reade, who worked as a staff assistant for then-Senator Biden in 1993 when she was in her mid-twenties. Tara Reade told journalist Katie Halper in an interview published Tuesday that Biden repeatedly touched her without her consent and sexually assaulted her. A warning to listeners and viewers, her account is graphic.
TARA READE: And then his hands were on me and underneath my clothes. And yeah, and then he went — he went down my skirt but then up inside it, and he penetrated me with his fingers.
AMY GOODMAN: Tara Reade approached the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund in January looking for assistance, but was reportedly told the fund couldn’t help her because Biden is a candidate for federal office, and pursuing a case could jeopardize the fund’s nonprofit status. The Intercept reports the public relations firm representing Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund is SKDKnickerbocker, whose managing director, Anita Dunn, is a top adviser to Biden’s presidential campaign.
Democracy Now! emailed Biden’s press team for response to the allegations and to join us on the show, but they didn’t respond. Joe Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, said in a statement, quote, “Women have a right to tell their story, and reporters have an obligation to rigorously vet those claims. We encourage them to do so, because these accusations are false,” she said.
Well, in this exclusive Democracy Now! TV/radio broadcast, we’re joined now by Tara Reade herself, the former staffer for Joe Biden who came forward with the allegations that Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993.
Tara, welcome to Democracy Now! It is very difficult to go back over something like this, but if you wouldn’t mind telling us about how you came to decide at this point that it was important for you to tell your story? You had come forward last year, when others talked about Senator Joe Biden, the former vice president, the presidential candidate, being sexually inappropriate with them, but you didn’t go as far as to tell this story that happened in 1993. So why don’t you tell us what happened?
TARA READE: I actually tried to tell the story to some extent in 1993, in the sense that I wanted to talk about it, but I was too afraid. My mother had encouraged me to file a police report, and I did not, and I should have. So I filed a sexual harassment claim, where just I filled out a paper and then did not hear back.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you give us the circumstances, how you ended up — what was the day, how you ended up alone with Joe Biden? Explain what happened that day.
TARA READE: I was approached by my supervisor. She handed me a gym bag and said, “Hurry, Joe wants this, so get it to him. He’ll meet you down towards the Capitol.” And I went down the stairs, and I don’t remember exactly where I was, because there’s connections between the Russell Building and all of that and the corridors, but we were in a semi-private location. It wasn’t a room. It wasn’t, you know, the Russell Office Building — I mean, in his office. It was down in the corridors. And I handed him the gym bag.
And then he — it was one, as I described, fluid moment. He was talking to me, and he said some things that I don’t recall. And I was up against the wall. And he — I remember the coldness of the wall. And I remember his hands underneath my blouse and underneath my skirt, and his fingers penetrating me as he was trying to kiss me and I was pulling away. And he pulled back, and he said, “Come on, man. I heard you liked me.” But he was angry. It was like a tight voice. And he tended to smile when he was angry. And he isn’t like the Uncle Joe like everybody talks about now. He was younger. He was my dad’s age at that time and very strong. And he looked insulted and angry. And I remember feeling like I had done something wrong when he said that statement. And then I was standing there when he said — he was still near me. He said — pointed his finger and said, “You’re nothing to me. You’re nothing.” And he walked away.
And I don’t remember exactly where I went after. I think I went to the restroom to clean up, but I don’t remember precisely. The next memory I have is sitting on the cold stairs, on the Russell Building back stairs, where the big windows are. And I remember just my whole body shaking. And I remember knowing that — knowing that I had made him angry and that my career was probably over. And I didn’t comply. And I didn’t comply when I was asked to serve drinks at a cocktail party for donors, because, apparently, Joe Biden said, according to a legislative staffer, that I had pretty legs, and he thought I was pretty, and I should serve the drinks. And my supervisor had encouraged me to do so, and I did not. So, sitting on those stairs, the reality hit me.
The next thing I remember was that night and talking to my mom, and she was like, “You need to file a police report. It’s a sexual assault.” And I didn’t think of it as sexual assault, and I didn’t really understand. And I was trying to just get over the shock of it, because I looked up to him. He was supposed to be a champion of women. And I was so thrilled to be at that office and so honored, and it shattered my life and changed the trajectory of my whole career and life. And I lost my job after I complained, and I was fired.
AMY GOODMAN: And how exactly did you complain, Tara? You filed a complaint of sexual harassment against Senator Biden at the time? Now, let’s be clear, this is 1993, two years after he led the Senate Judiciary Committee around the Anita Hill charges against Clarence Thomas. So this is soon after that. You filed a complaint. Did you talk about this happening?
TARA READE: No, I didn’t talk about the sexual assault. What I did was I went through office protocol, which would be to go to your supervisor. And if you’re not happy, you go to the next supervisor, and then the next one would be the chief of staff. And I did go up the chain verbally. And there were a couple of meetings — more than a couple, actually. And there were people taking notes. I mean, I know they took notes. And some were more informal in the hallway, with Marianne. And I was basically — after I had not served the drinks, that whole, you know, episode, I was immediately told, like within a few days, by Marianne’s assistant that I dressed too provocatively, that I was too — that I needed to be less noticeable. And then Marianne got me in the hallway, because I was annoyed by that, and she said, you know, “You want to just keep your head down and do as you’re told, if you want to last here.”
And I went to them and told them I was uncomfortable. So I couched it in those terms. We didn’t use the term “sexual harassment” a lot back then. And I remember saying I was uncomfortable and why. But nothing happened. And in fact, I was put in a windowless office, and I had my duties taken away from me. I was given a desk audit. I was told to call one of my upper-level supervisors even if I went to the restroom. I was not to call or talk to other staffers or go to legislative hearings. I was told that I was given a month to find another job. And I sent out my résumés. And before I did that, because of this retaliation, I told my mother, who gave me the term “retaliation” and explained to me what was happening, and said to march in there and file a sexual harassment claim. And I said — and she used the word. And I said, “Well, you don’t just march into their office. Like, that’s not how this is done.”
So, I had gone through that protocol. Then, when that didn’t work, I went to the outside, which was like a — they had a temporary office set up, so it was Senate personnel or something like that, and I was given a clipboard. I filled out a form and talked about just the incident of the sexual harassment, feeling uncomfortable. And I was told at the window that somebody would call back, you know, call me back in. And they never did.
I ended up looking for work, couldn’t find it. I volunteered for the Robert F. Kennedy memorial. I was fortunate enough to work in the VIP tent and with the family, and it was helping me emotionally, because I was trying to recover from the trauma of what had happened that day. And I didn’t share it with many people at all at that time. It’s just not something that was easy to talk about. It’s not easy to talk about now.
And when I came out in April, I started again — I had the intent to tell the whole history with Biden. But one of the first questions out of the reporter’s mouth was, “Yeah, but it wasn’t sexual, right?” when he was talking about the sexual harassment. And it shut me down. And that’s not his fault. It’s my responsibility, I know, to be brave and to be courageous and say the words. But it just put me off from being able to talk. And then, when the story was hitting, there was so much blowback and smearing on social media that I just didn’t feel comfortable. So I was trying to find a way to tell my story to a legitimate news agency. I didn’t want it sold or, you know, sensationalized or anything nonsense like that. I wanted to have the deeper conversation of how hard it is for survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace to go up against powerful men, because I have not received any payment for this, I have not received any compensation, because the facts are, you know, women are not paid to talk. They’re paid to stay silent. And so I wanted a women’s organization around me, and that’s why I went to Time’s Up.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tara Reade, could you talk about your experience then with Time’s Up, when you went to them and you were hoping that they might be able to assist you in this?
TARA READE: Yes. I went to Time’s Up. They were very gracious. I filled out a form, first of all, on — you know, you do it online. And then I was called about January 24th-ish, right around there, and emailed back, and then we had a phone interview. There was about 20 emails between us, and there were several meetings on the phone. And what they did was they prepared a paragraph describing my case, and they were going to give me attorney referrals. And if you’re economically challenged or you need help with funds, they will help you with a public relations platform for one month, so access to a public relations firm, to tell your story with their platform, and also to have an attorney, which is what I was seeking because of the social media smears. I wanted like cease and desist for some of the things that were being said. I wanted protection, of some sort, and not to be alone.
AMY GOODMAN: And describe then what happened, I mean, this report in The Intercept of you waiting to hear from Time’s Up and then what you learned afterwards about its links to the Biden campaign through the PR firm.
TARA READE: It was absolutely stunning. In the 20-plus emails and the multiple conversations that we had, not one time, not once, did they say that they were connected to Anita Dunn, who worked for Harvey Weinstein and advised him and helped him keep — silence some of the women that came forward. Not one time did they talk about the payments that were made to the Joe Biden campaign. Now, bear in mind, in their defense, they said that that’s second removed. But part of their services was to provide a platform, you know, a public relations platform. I don’t understand, as a survivor — and I’m not an investigative reporter. I’m not an investigator. I’m just speaking as a survivor. It violated my trust, when I read Ryan Grim’s article. I found out with everyone else. And I’m still processing that. I shared my story with them again and again, with the attorneys that they sent to me. And each time I was rejected by each attorney. One attorney said, “We’ve met as a firm, and we have decided there is no legal strategy to safely tell your story, because it’s Joe Biden.”
And what I want to say is that’s wrong. That’s unconscionable. Anyone who has a claim or an assertion of something that’s happened of misconduct should be able to speak freely without reprisal. And as you can see in the social media, I am being ripped apart. I’ve had my family and my friends contacted. I’ve had my bankruptcy posted. I have had the fact that I had a name change, which was sealed, and a sealed Social Security change for safety, because I’m a domestic violence survivor. And I’ve been dragged through it. But I don’t care. I don’t care about that. They can try to strip away everything about me, but they won’t take my dignity, and they won’t get my silence, because all that does is make me more determined to tell my story, and it doesn’t change the fact of what happened in 1993.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Tara Reade, throughout all this time, when you were engaged in discussions with the Time’s Up folks, they never mentioned their relationship with Anita Dunn, or — and how did they finally notify you that they could not be involved?
TARA READE: They started an email. But then I called Ellie, asking her what was going on. It was taking some time, and I kept getting rejected by attorneys. And she said, “I was going to just email you, but I have to tell you that our 501(c)(3) status would be at risk. We can keep referring attorneys to you, but we cannot provide you funding.” So then I wanted to escalate it to the director, and so we had a meeting with the director and the program manager. And I pushed back a little, and I said, “I can’t help who did this. Where do I go? How do I get help? How do I get a woman’s organization to help me?” And her response was, “Keep in communications with us. Our attorneys have advised us our 501(c)(3) could be at risk because it’s a presidential election, and we can’t appear biased.” So, I accepted that response at that time —
AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds, Tara.
TARA READE: — even though it [inaudible] people. Anyway, what I would say is, there’s been no access to justice for me. And in the fall, there’s no democracy for me.
AMY GOODMAN: Tara Reade, I want to thank you so much for being with us, former staff assistant to then-Senator Joe Biden. She alleges that Joe Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993.
That does it for our broadcast. Democracy Now! produced by an amazing group of people: Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Nermeen Shaikh, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Libby Rainey. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.