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- Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign has insisted that journalists “rigorously vet” the allegations of former Senate aide Tara Reade, who says she was sexually assaulted by the former vice president and forced out after she complained of harassment.
- Reade said she believed that Biden’s senatorial papers, which are housed at the University of Delaware, may contain notes and other personnel records supporting some of her allegations.
- But the archives are sealed until “two years after Biden retires from public life,” and the Biden camp refuses to open them to the public.
- Insider has learned that Biden campaign operatives have visited the archives on at least one occasion.
- Previously, prominent Democrats have argued that public access to official records is essential to evaluating fitness for office.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has repeatedly insisted that journalists “rigorously vet” the claims of former Biden staffer Tara Reade, who alleges she was sexually harassed while working in Biden’s Senate office and sexually assaulted by Biden in 1993. But Biden is refusing to allow public access to his senatorial archives, even though they may contain records that could shed light on Reade’s accusations — and as his campaign operatives have accessed the papers in the past year.
Reade first came forward on a podcast last month to detail her assault allegations against the former vice president. Since then, she has told multiple outlets, including Insider, that Biden pushed her up against a wall, reached under her skirt, and penetrated her with his fingers in spring or summer 1993. Earlier this week, Reade’s former neighbor Lynda LaCasse told Insider that Reade had discussed the assault allegations with her in the mid-’90s.
In addition to the assault allegation, Reade said she experienced sexual harassment in her job managing the office’s interns, including being told to serve drinks at an event because Biden liked the way she looked. She said she complained internally to her superiors about her treatment. Lorraine Sanchez, who worked with Reade in the office of a California state senator after Reade left Biden’s office, told Insider this week that Reade told her in the ’90s that she had suffered sexual harassment at her previous job in Washington, DC.
The Biden campaign has denied Reade’s allegations. In a statement earlier this month, Katie Bedingfield, Biden’s communications director, said, “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.”
1,875 boxes of sealed records
But one thing the Biden campaign is not encouraging journalists to do is check Biden’s senate archives for any records that could corroborate or undermine Reade’s accusations. Those records — 1,875 boxes full — remain sealed within the special-collections department at the University of Delaware’s library. And the Biden campaign is ignoring calls to open them up.
But the campaign itself is curious about what is in those boxes and has dispatched operatives on at least one occasion to search through them, Insider has learned. Andrea Boyle Tippett, a spokeswoman for the University of Delaware, confirmed to Insider that people from the campaign have accessed the collection since Biden announced his presidential campaign in spring 2019. She added that the University of Delaware’s library closed in mid-March because of the coronavirus and no one from the Biden campaign has gone to the library since its closure.
Insider provided the Biden campaign with a detailed list of questions about his senatorial records, including whether he believes the documents should be opened to the public, if Biden or his campaign has authorized anyone to access those archives since launching the campaign, and whether the campaign would consider releasing the documents, as they may contain information that could dispute or confirm Reade’s allegations.
The Biden campaign declined to comment for this story.
‘I watched him take notes’
Reade told Insider that she wants the University of Delaware to unseal the records because she believes they contain information that could corroborate her harassment claims against the former senator.
She said that while she didn’t tell anyone at Biden’s office about the assault allegations, she did complain to superiors about harassment and being made to feel uncomfortable. She said she met formally and informally with several Biden aides — including his former chief of staff, Ted Kaufman — about her concerns, which included allegations that she was told she dressed too provocatively and asked to serve drinks at a fundraiser because Biden liked her legs. She believes notes from those discussions would be in any personnel files the archives might contain.
“Ted Kaufman took notes when I spoke with him,” Reade told Insider. “He’s now denying that we ever had the meeting, and I watched him take notes. Those notes would be in my personnel file, along with sick days or any kind of extra notes that I turn in,” she said, adding that the archives might contain documentation of what she said was an effort to force her to resign after she came forward with the harassment allegations.
‘I do not remember her’
Kaufman, who has been meeting with Biden in recent days to discuss the campaign’s transition plans, told Insider he had no recollection of Reade.
“She did not call me. She did not come to me. I would remember her if she had, and I do not remember her,” he said. “Now remember, this is 30 years ago, and she was a very junior staffer from everything that other reporters have told me.”
In March, the Biden campaign released a statement from Marianne Baker, Biden’s longtime executive assistant, saying she had never come across any accusations of harassment within the office: “In all my years working for Senator Biden, I never once witnessed, or heard of, or received, any reports of inappropriate conduct, period — not from Ms. Reade, not from anyone.”
Reade initially went public with harassment allegations last spring after Nevada politician Lucy Flores accused Biden of sniffing her hair and kissing the back of her head, telling a California newspaper, “He used to put his hand on my shoulder and run his finger up my neck. I would just kind of freeze and wait for him to stop doing that.”
Biden was ultimately accused by multiple women of either touching them inappropriately or violating their personal space in ways that made them uncomfortable. In a two-minute video released in April 2019, the former vice president said cultural norms around personal space had changed and pledged to be more mindful of his behavior.
Reade thinks the release of Biden’s senatorial papers could renew scrutiny on the presumptive nominee’s track record with women and help reporters fact-check Baker’s claims that Biden had never been accused of harassment.
“I have read that the campaign denies there’s ever been any sexual harassment or complaints, and I know that there has,” Reade said, referring to the complaint she said she raised. If anyone else wants to come forward with a story about working for Biden, she said, “this would be a mechanism to give a sense of safety if there’s documentation to support their claims.”
The day before Biden’s campaign launched, the University of Delaware changed its access policy for his archives
Biden announced that he would donate the archives, which cover the period of 1973 to 2009, to the University of Delaware in 2011. For years, according to The Washington Post, the university’s policy was that the papers would remain sealed to the public “for two years after he retires from public office.” However, on the day before Biden launched his campaign, the policy on the library’s website was updated to say the records would remain closed until either December 31, 2019, or when Biden “retires from public life.” The university did not define “public life.”
Tippett confirmed that timeline to Insider, adding that Biden’s senatorial papers are still being processed, with many items yet to be catalogued. “The entire collection will remain closed to the public until two years after Mr. Biden retires from public life,” she said.
Michael Crespin, the director of the Carl Albert Center at the University of Oklahoma, which houses the archives of more than 60 former members of Congress, told Insider it was uncommon for such policies to be altered after the records are handed over. “I’ll say this, I have not seen that with our collections where the terms of the deed were changed afterwards, and we have over 60,” he said. “Now some of them are pretty old, but I’ve never seen that with our collections.”
Insider has filed a public-records request with the University of Delaware seeking a copy of the original agreement that Biden signed when donating his records, any changes and correspondence about it, and the sign-in sheet to access the special-collections department where the records are stored. The university denied a similar request made by The Washington Post.
Members of Congress can do whatever they want with their records
Unlike in other parts of the federal government, members of Congress maintain ownership over their personal and official records from their time in office (the only exception is committee records, which stay with the committee).
Crespin said it was standard for politicians to keep their records private, and he found nothing unusual about Biden’s language to keep the records sealed. Even if a member did open their collection to the public, he said, they could still pick through it and take out what they want.
“I think if a particular collection is not open, there’s potentially a hole in what we know. You can only learn from what’s there, so if you are trying to tell a story, there could be information that you just don’t know about,” Crespin said. “There’s potentially a lot of information here that we could learn about the senator.”
Lata Nott, a fellow at the Freedom Forum Institute’s First Amendment Center, told Insider that while Biden isn’t legally obligated to release his senatorial papers, that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t.
“I think access to his senatorial records would help to vet Tara Reade’s claims because they would contain records from the time that she worked for him,” Nott said. “The First Amendment doesn’t say you have to release your senatorial papers, but you know what? It would be good if you did. It would show a commitment to openness and transparency and the public understanding of what you did in your time as a senator and how you would be as a presidential candidate.”
Democrats have demanded that Supreme Court nominees’ archives be fully opened
In the past, Democrats have insisted that public access to official records is essential to evaluating someone’s fitness for office. In September 2018, six Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee filed a lawsuit against the National Archives and the CIA seeking to force the release of records from then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s tenure in the George W. Bush White House. They argued in the lawsuit that the records should be made public because they “relat[e] to a matter of widespread and exceptional media interest in which there exist possible questions about the government’s integrity which affect public confidence.”
A month earlier, all 10 Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee signed a letter to Chairman Chuck Grassley saying they “support the full public release of the documents and believe that the Senate cannot perform its constitutional role to provide advice and consent by hiding Judge Kavanaugh’s White House record from public view.”
“The Senate and American people should not be left in the dark,” they wrote in the letter.
Democratic lawmakers throughout Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation were vocal about the release of the records: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who endorsed Biden in October, said “it’s critical that we view his entire record,” while Sen. Richard Blumenthal told The Connecticut Mirror “there is too much at stake to accept less than a complete picture,” adding that “the process of screening and cherry-picking and sanitizing the documents that have been submitted so far really is a disservice to the American people.”
Former presidential candidates expressed concern too: Sen. Cory Booker, who endorsed Biden in March, said at the time, “The fact that tens of thousands of documents revealing a Supreme Court nominee’s views on key issues were deemed Committee Confidential and not available to the public reflects the absurdity of the process.” And Sen. Kamala Harris, who also endorsed Biden last month, said, “It is important, more important I’d say than ever, that the American people have transparency and accountability with this nomination. And that’s why it is extremely disturbing that Senate Republicans have prevented this body, and most important, the American people from fully reviewing Judge Kavanaugh’s record.”
Nott told Insider that while members of Congress understand the importance of records — which is why former senators like Biden donate their papers to begin with — they also want to release them at a point at which the documents can no longer make them look bad.
“They believe that their records contain important information that could be important for a study, for history, for context, but they don’t want those records to have an actual impact on their political careers,” she said.
An alleged harassment complaint that remains sealed for 50 years
Reade said that in addition to raising complaints internally within Biden’s office, she also filed a formal sexual-harassment complaint — without mentioning the assault allegation — with the Senate. Though she said she could not recall which office within the Senate’s bureaucracy she approached, she said she vividly remembered how she felt when she handed over the form detailing her allegations.
“I remember having the same feeling I did after Joe Biden sexually assaulted me,” she told Insider. “My legs were shaking; my whole body was shaking. I was so nervous. When I handed the form it felt like there was no turning back now. I was taking this step to formalize my complaint, and I was really concerned I would never get a job on the Hill. And then sure enough when I would apply for jobs, I couldn’t get a job on the Hill.”
Reade said that she never received any response or follow-up regarding the complaint before she decided to leave Washington for good about two months later. “But I really wish there would have been follow-up or some sort of concrete reply,” she said.
A staffer at the Senate Historical Office told Insider that in the ’90s, a complaint like the one Reade described would most likely have been filed with the Senate’s Fair Employment Practices Office, which was established to handle labor issues. In 1995, with the passage of the Congressional Accountability Act, the Fair Employment Practices Office became the Office of Compliance, and it is now called the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.
The Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives maintains the historical records of Congress. But a spokesperson for the National Archives told Insider the center did not have records from the Office of Fair Employment Practices.
The Senate Historical Office staffer said the Fair Employment Practices records are governed by a Senate resolution mandating that “records containing personal privacy, information closed by statute, and records of executive nomination are closed for 50 years.” The staffer couldn’t say for sure whether every complaint the office received would have been permanently archived or, if so, where they would be now. The Standing Rules of the Senate call for all “noncurrent records of the Senate” to be transferred to the General Services Administration “for preservation” at the end of each Congress.
A spokesperson for the office of the secretary of the Senate could not immediately say where historical Fair Employment Practices records might be or when, if ever, they may become public. A General Services Administration source said the agency is not in possession of the records.
The Senate Historical Office staffer told Insider the rules for filing a complaint to the Office of Fair Employment Practices were complicated and that it was possible that a staffer attempting to do so without proper guidance may not have taken the necessary steps to get an investigation started. “If an employee brought a complaint … it is certainly possible that if she did not take the prescribed next steps that the statute laid out that the process would not have gone anywhere,” the staffer said.
According to congressional testimony from 1995, 479 people contacted the office between 1992 and 1995 seeking assistance. Of those, only 102 entered the office’s five-step “dispute resolution” process, which included a formal complaint and hearing. If Reade filed an initial report that didn’t go anywhere, she wouldn’t have been alone.
If Reade’s complaint exists, and was filed to the Office of Fair Employment Practices, the record will remain closed until 2043, more than two decades from now. And if the formal complaint was shared with Biden’s office, it — and any other notes or records regarding Reade and her time working for Biden — would remain sealed until two years after Biden “retires from public life.”
“Joe Biden is running on the platform of character,” Reade said. “I did come forward in good faith to my supervisors, following protocol about the sexual harassment, was given no assistance. I would like them to show the honesty and courage to at least release my personnel file. Have your public persona match your personal persona, and give me my personal records.”
This post has been updated to reflect a statement from the General Services Administration.
University of Delaware