Senate can't release information on Tara Reade as Biden requested (also, about that sloppy AP story)

Last Friday, after Joe Biden appeared on MSNBC to deny the allegations made by Tara Reade, he sent a letter to the secretary of the Senate asking that a search be done of the Senate’s archives and that the results of the search be made public. Today the secretary of the Senate indicated that, after speaking with lawyers, that’s not something it can do:

In a statement, Julie Adams said their legal counsel has reviewed the relevant statute governing such records and advised that “the Secretary has no discretion to disclose any such information as requested in Vice President Biden’s letter of May 1.”

The statement cited the law’s confidentiality requirements and past Senate guidance.

If you want to read the secretary’s full statement it’s here. What’s not clear is whether or not the answer would be different if Tara Reade was requesting a copy of her own records since, presumably, giving them to her wouldn’t violate confidentiality laws.

I suspect Biden’s campaign will throw up its hands and say ‘Well, we tried.” They got a news cycle about making an effort and that’s enough for them. In fact, given his long, long history in the Senate I wonder if his campaign wasn’t at least vaguely aware this request was going nowhere when they made it.

Would it have mattered anyway in light of the big Associated Press scoop over the weekend? The “news” presented in that story was that Tara Reade’s complaint, even if it could be located, wouldn’t mention sexual harassment:

“I remember talking about him wanting me to serve drinks because he liked my legs and thought I was pretty and it made me uncomfortable,” Reade said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. “I know that I was too scared to write about the sexual assault.”

Reade told the AP twice that she did not use the phrase “sexual harassment” in filing the complaint, but at other points in the interview said that was the behavior she believed she was describing. She said: “I talked about sexual harassment, retaliation. The main word I used – and I know I didn’t use sexual harassment — I used ‘uncomfortable.’ And I remember ‘retaliation.’”

If you spent any time on Twitter Saturday, you’d have seen this story was being greeted as if Tara Reade was changing her story or backing off what she’d said previously. That’s exactly how Joe Scarborough framed it, i.e. as a “big development.”

Tens of thousands of people liked that tweet and I saw many, many more that framed the AP story as proof Reade had changed her story and was not credible. There’s just one problem with that narrative. Tara Reade has said all along that her complaint didn’t mention sexual assault. In fact, two reporters who have previously interviewed Tara Reade at length seemed surprised the AP was treating this as a scoop. Here’s Ryan Grim from the intercept responding to Scarborough’s tweet:

And here’s Rich McHugh from Business Insider saying the same thing:

But you don’t have to take their word for it. Here’s what she said in an interview with The Hill back on March 26: ” “…I did make a written claim outside the office…how I couched it was in terms of I felt uncomfortable…” Compare that to what she told the AP: “The main word I used – and I know I didn’t use sexual harassment — I used ‘uncomfortable.’” Even the wording is almost the same:

I’ve gone through her first interview with Katie Halper on soundcloud and she conveyed the same thing there. I guess the authors of the AP story didn’t bother looking into what she’d said previously and wound up presenting something she’s said repeatedly five weeks ago as news. The result was that many readers of the story, who also didn’t know she’s said the same thing five weeks earlier thought she had changed her story. This was pretty sloppy work on the part of the Associated Press. Really, it almost looks as if they were trying to sabotage her credibility the way they reported this.

Two more points about the AP story. First, the initial headline put on this story was “Tara Reade says a Senate report she filed against Joe Biden didn’t refer to sexual harassment or assault.” Reade herself immediately contradicted that.

What Reade said was that she’s not sure she used the words “sexual harassment.” However, whether she used that phrase or not, what she was describing was sexual harassment, i.e. being asked to serve drinks at a function because the Senator thought she had nice legs. She also described retaliation for her complaints which led to her being fired. The AP eventually changed the headline and added this editor’s note at the bottom:

The headline of this story was changed for clarity and to incorporate a direct quote from Reade. The AP also added material to the story, which details the specific words and examples Reade says she used in a Senate complaint about Joe Biden. The AP is adding the material to reflect that while Reade says she did not specifically use the words “sexual harassment” in the complaint, she says the behavior she was describing amounts to sexual harassment.

The second point about the AP story is this. Buried at the very bottom was the fact that the AP spoke to two people who back up Reade’s story:

The AP has also spoken to two additional people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their families’ privacy, who said Reade had told them about aspects of her allegations against Biden years ago.

One friend, who knew Reade in 1993, said Reade told them about the alleged assault when it happened. The second friend met Reade more than a decade after the alleged incident and confirmed that Reade had a conversation with the friend in 2007 or 2008 about experiencing sexual harassment from Biden while working in his Senate office.

Unfortunately, the AP doesn’t make it clear if these are two new people who haven’t spoken to other reporters before. The friend from 1993 could be the same unnamed friend I wrote about here but we don’t know because the AP doesn’t make it clear. Again, the entire AP story was a mess. Either it was written by people who weren’t familiar with Reade’s story or by people with bad intent.

So does the fact that the document in question doesn’t detail sexual assault make it irrelevant? Not necessarily and here’s why. As it stands now, several people have come forward saying they remember Reade telling them about sexual harassment and/or sexual assault decades ago. However, former Biden staffers to whom Reade says she complained about sexual harassment at the time have denied ever having any such conversations with her. So you have two sets of recollections which are at odds.

As Reade pointed out in an interview with the Daily Caller, finding any evidence that she complained within Biden’s Senate office or outside of it about sexual harassment would undermine the flat denials issued by Biden’s former staffers.

“That would actually confirm that there was an issue that I went to my supervisors about. It would confirm the serving of the drinks,” she said, referring to her allegation that Biden asked for her to serve drinks at a fundraiser because he liked her legs.

She added that it would confirm that Biden’s “staff lied on the record and said that I never had meetings, when I had more than five meetings total – informal and formal, with the three of them at different times throughout my tenure.”

And if we find out the denials from Biden’s staffers aren’t accurate then their credibility in denying her claim is shot. Bottom line: If we find any mention of sexual harassment in those files, that won’t prove Reade’s story of sexual assault, but it will prove Biden’s people haven’t been telling the truth.