Tara Reade calls on Biden to 'be held accountable' and exit the race

Mike Memoli and Ali Vitali

WASHINGTON — The former Senate staffer accusing Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her 27 years ago is calling on him to "step forward and be held accountable" in her first on-camera interview since the former vice president "unequivocally" denied her allegation.

"You and I were there, Joe Biden," the staffer, Tara Reade, told Megyn Kelly in a clip of the interview posted to Twitter on Thursday. "You should not be running on character for the president of the United States." When asked whether Biden should drop out of race, Reade said, "I wish he would."

In an interview with Bay News 9 of Tampa, Florida, on Thursday, Biden was asked about her comments and responded, "Well look, nothing ever happened with Tara Reade."

Reade also said she would "absolutely" go under oath and be cross-examined over her claim, but she stopped short of saying she would agree unilaterally to take a polygraph test.

"I'm not a criminal. Joe Biden should take the polygraph," Reade said, raising concern about the precedent it would set for people who have been sexually assaulted. "I will take one if Joe Biden takes one. But I am not a criminal."

In late March, Reade alleged that when she worked as a staff assistant for Biden when he was a senator in 1993, he penetrated her with his fingers under her skirt in a corridor in the Capitol complex after she brought him a gym bag.

A year earlier, Reade claimed only that she felt harassed and was made uncomfortable during the months she worked for Biden as a staff assistant, including Biden's rubbing her neck. Thursday, Reade elaborated on what she says happened, telling Kelly that during the alleged assault, Biden “whispered did I want to go somewhere else, in a low voice” and “he said I want to f--- you.” Only portions of the interview have been released so far.

Appearing on MSNBC last week, Biden said he would not question her motivations, but he insisted that what she alleged "never happened."

"I don't know why she's saying this, why, after 27 years, all of a sudden this gets raised. I don't understand it. But I'm not going to go in and question her motive, not going to attack her," he said. "She has a right to say whatever she wants to say, but I have a right to say, look at the facts, check it out."

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Reade's account of the alleged incident, her conversations about it with others and what, if any, steps she took to lodge a formal complaint at the time have all been intensely scrutinized over the past week, and a prominent lawyer announced that he is now representing her.

In a statement, the lawyer, Douglas Wigdor, said that "every survivor has the right to competent counsel" and that he would "represent Ms. Reade zealously, just as we would any other victim of sexual violence." Wigdor has also represented accusers of former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Also on Thursday, a local California paper first unearthed a 1996 court filing from Tara Reade's then-husband in which he mentions Reade telling him about sexual harassment she said she was experiencing while working in Biden' office. The filing does not include mention of sexual assault, according to the report. NBC News has not reviewed the document.

In the complaint, Reade’s ex-husband writes that she “eventually struck a deal with the chief of staff of the Senator’s office and left her position.” Biden’s then-Chief of Staff, Ted Kaufman, told the San Luis Obispo Tribune through the Biden campaign: “I have consistently said what is the truth here — that she never came to me. I do not remember her, and had she come to me in any of these circumstances, I would remember her. But I do not, because she did not.” The campaign referred NBC News to that statement when asked for a response to the story.

Kaufman, who continues to serve Biden as an informal advisor, previously told NBC News, Reade “did not come to me” with any allegations. "I would have remembered her if she had, and I do not remember her," he said.

Reade’s lawyer told NBC News Thursday night the document “is further evidence supporting Ms. Read[e]’s claims. The DNC ought to call for an immediate independent investigation into its putative nominee for the 2020 presidential election.”

Beyond his denials, Biden has called for the secretary of the Senate to locate and release any potential records that might support Reade's account that she made a formal complaint with the Senate at the time. The Senate office said Monday that it did not have the "discretion" to release such records or even to confirm whether they existed, citing confidentiality requirements under law.

The office did provide a 16-page document detailing procedures at the time for the Senate Office of Fair Employment Practices to handle complaints about discrimination or "reprisal" from Senate employees.

Reade told The Associated Press last year that she "chickened out" from moving forward after having taken an initial step to request counseling from the office. Biden's office, according to procedures at the time, would not have been notified of any pending allegation at that stage.

In the new interview, Reade said she has faced hostility on social media and even death threats since she came forward with her allegation. She claimed that her social media accounts have been hacked and that her personal information has been "dragged through," attributing some maltreatment to "blue check marks" supporting Biden.

"His campaign is taking this position that they want all women to be able to speak safely. I have not experienced that," she said.

"Every person that maybe has a gripe against me — an ex-boyfriend or an ex-landlord, whatever it is, has been able to have a platform rather than me, talking about things that have nothing to do with 1993," she said. Reade said some have called her a "Russian agent," leading to a death threat.

In a posting on Medium from 2018 that has since been deleted, Reade called Russian President Vladimir Putin "a compassionate, caring, visionary leader" and said she hoped "America will come to see Russia as I do, with eyes of love." Reade has told NBC News that she was working on a novel at the time, and she said the writings do not represent her current feelings toward Russia or Putin.

Asked in the interview Thursday to address those who may not believe her story, Reade said “I don't really care if people believe it or not, I've had to live with it. And it's just one of those things that's impacted and shattered my life and changed everything about my life.”