In March, former Joe Biden staffer Tara Reade went public with the explosive allegation that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden had sexually assaulted her in 1993. Since then, Democrats, in particular surrogates of the Biden campaign, have struggled to deal with the allegation. The Biden camp has categorically denied that any wrongdoing took place, but in the first presidential election of the #MeToo era, can he really afford to dismiss Tara Reade? The Intercept’s Ryan Grim, who recently broke new revelations in the story, joins Mehdi Hasan to discuss.
Ryan Grim: She has always been conflicted about this question, because she certainly doesn’t want to be responsible for electing Donald Trump. But at the same time, she doesn’t want to stay silent.
Mehdi Hasan: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan, coming to you from my home in the DC Metro area.
On today’s show:
RG: The #MeToo movement is still evolving a way to think about adjudicating and finding justice in situations like this.
MH: That’s my guest, my Intercept colleague Ryan Grim, who has been one of the reporters at the forefront of the Tara Reade story—she’s the former Joe Biden staffer who says the former vice president sexually assaulted her in a Senate hallway in the early 1990s.
So, is it true? And how long is Biden going to be able to ignore this explosive accusation? Or do Democrats need to find a new presidential candidate?
Over the past weekend, CNN finally — finally — aired a segment on the accusations against former Vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden by a former staffer, Tara Reade.
Here’s how CNN reporter MJ Lee described the allegation:
MJ Lee: A woman named Tara Reade — she was an aide for then-senator Joe Biden in the early 1990s. She recently alleged that Joe Biden had sexually assaulted her many years ago [… ]Tara Reade previously, last year, publicly said that Biden had touched her in ways that had made her feel uncomfortable — touching her neck, touching her hair — so this new allegation of sexual assault is obviously new and so much more serious than what she said last year.
The thing is, though, Reade’s allegations of sexual assault are not “new.”
Yes, she first reached out to reporters with her own allegations of inappropriate physical contact by Biden in April of 2019, and, yes, amongst a barrage of stories about the former vice president’s unwelcome hair-touching, head-kissing and shoulder-grabbing, Reade’s own story didn’t stand out.
But it’s been more than a month since Reade made her much more explosive, shocking, disturbing allegation of sexual assault against the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. During an interview with podcaster Katie Halper on March 25, Reade went into graphic detail of what she said Biden did to her in a Senate hallway, when she worked for him, back in 1993. And just a warning, this next clip is a pretty graphic description of alleged sexual assault:
Tara Reade: It happened all at once. His hands were on me, and underneath my clothes. And um — yeah — and then, he went down my skirt, but then up inside it. And he, uh, penetrated me with his fingers, and uh — when I pulled away, he, uh, finished doing what he was doing, and I kind of just pulled back, and he said, “Come on, man. I heard you liked me.”
MH: Reade said she told her brother and a friend at the time, that this happened to her, and, both of them confirmed her story — though the brother’s account to the Washington Post was a little bit all over the place. She also says she complained to senior staff members in then-Senator Biden’s office, who then basically forced her out of her job.
The Biden campaign, you won’t be surprised to hear, deny all of this, as do three of the staffers who Tara Reade has named. And in a statement to the New York Times on April 12, deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said the former Vice President, “firmly believes that women have a right to be heard — and heard respectfully. Such claims should also be diligently reviewed by an independent press. What is clear about this claim: It is untrue. This absolutely did not happen.”
That’s the statement from Kate Bedingfield on the Biden campaign. I should point out: It took 19 days for the New York Times to report on Reade’s accusation; it took CNN a full month. In fact, most big mainstream media organizations didn’t cover this story till Joe Biden had wrapped up the nomination and Bernie Sanders had suspended his presidential campaign. Funny, that!
This is now a serious, serious story, though. And Democrats can’t continue to ignore it. They can’t continue to ignore it because number one, the evidence is starting to stack up — and it’s stacking up against Joe Biden.
Over the past week or so, some pretty important new information has come to light that appears to corroborate Reade’s account — or least the idea that something inappropriate occurred between her and the senator 27 years ago, which she talked about at the time.
Last Friday, The Intercept’s Ryan Grim broke the story that on August 11, 1993, shortly after the events that Reade alleges would have taken place, her mother, now deceased, called in to the Larry King show on CNN during a segment about congressional staffers dealing with difficult work situations.
Larry King: San Luis Obispo, California. Hello.
Jeanette Altimus: Yes, hello. I’m wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington? My daughter has just left there, after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.
MH: Reade has confirmed that that is indeed her mother’s voice. If nothing else, it appears to confirm that something happened between her and Biden that year that caused her to leave her job and was so serious that it motivated her mother to call into a high-profile cable news talk show.
Then earlier this week, on Monday, Business Insider revealed that two more named sources had come forward, on the record, to say that Reade told them her story back in the 90s: her neighbor at the time, a Biden supporter, who says that Reade disclosed details of the assault to her; and a co-worker from a subsequent job who says that she recalls Reade telling her, “a former boss had sexually harassed her, and that she had been fired after raising concerns.”
The second reason Democrats can’t ignore it is because, politically, they led the #MeToo charge, especially against Republican Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. They look both cynical and hypocritical if they try and ignore or bury this now — especially the women who are in the running to be Biden’s running mate. It’s what Rebecca Traister in The Cut this week called “The Biden Trap” for female Democrats.
Take Senator Kamala Harris, who is one of those being considered as the vice presidential nominee and has made a name for herself as a champion for women’s rights. Here she is in a recent podcast interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, when she’s asked about Reade’s accusation:
Kamala Harris: Listen, this woman has a right to tell her story. And I believe that, and I believe Joe Biden believes that too […] You know, on the issue of Joe, I can only speak to the Joe Biden I know. He has been a lifelong fighter in terms of stopping violence against women […] As I said, she has a right to tell her story, and she shouldn’t face any repercussions for that. But the Joe Biden I know is somebody who really has fought for women and empowerment of women and for women’s equality and rights.
MH: So, just to summarize — believe women, but not if it’s Joe Biden. Then, believe Joe Biden.
Now to be clear: Kamala Harris may be right not to believe Tara Reade. Stacey Abrams and Amy Klobuchar, who are also on Biden’s VP shortlist, and have also said they believe Biden, not Reade — they may be right, too.
For the record, I don’t know what to think about this story myself. I’m torn. I want to believe Tara Reade, but at the same time, I’ll acknowledge, there is no smoking gun, yet, proving Joe Biden sexually assaulted her in the way she describes.
But here’s the thing, there was no smoking gun in the Brett Kavanaugh case, either. There wasn’t. But we listened to, and took seriously — and, yes, believed Christine Blasey Ford. And as some on the left and the right have pointed out, Tara Reade has far more corroborating evidence for her claims against Biden, than Christine Blasey Ford had for hers against Kavanuagh.
So let’s not be hypocrites about this. At a minimum: Let’s take this stuff seriously. Let’s hear Democrats call for the unsealing of Joe Biden’s Senate papers and records, which are locked away at the University of Delaware, as Peter Beinart called for in The Atlantic this week. And when Senators like Kamala Harris are asked about Tara Reade’s accusation, how about they say her name and don’t refer to her, dismissively, as “this woman.”
Because, if you only care about sexual misconduct, sexual assault, when the accused is a Republican, then, I’m sorry, but you don’t really care about sexual misconduct or sexual assault. You don’t.
And if your first response to an accusation of sexual assault against your candidate is to attack the accuser — she’s not credible, she’s a Russian operative — or to ask why she didn’t come forward before, why she took so long, then you sound like a Republican. I mean, have Democrats forgotten what Republicans were like during the Kavanaugh hearings?
Fox News Personalities: This all has the whiff of a political smear masquerading as a sexual assault allegation.
I’ve never seen so many repressed memory cases in my life, especially against one guy!
Why wouldn’t it come out earlier?
We would have to conclude that this is just a set-up.
It was a made-up story.
She doesn’t know how — where it was, when it was, who drove her there, who drove here home.
I still kind of believe she believes something happened, but it doesn’t sit right anymore.
There is not enough evidence to even warrant an investigation.
Is it a case of mistaken identity?
Newt Gingrich: People often believe things 36 years later that just aren’t true.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: Ms. Ford has got a problem, and destroying Judge Kavanaugh’s life won’t fix her problem.
MH: Finally, one last practical reason why the Democrats can’t ignore this story is because the Republicans aren’t going to let them. They’re not gonna let this go, and they don’t care that their own candidate is the Sexual-Assaulter-in-Chief, that he’s been accused of sexual misconduct, and harassment, and assault, and even rape by more than 20 different women. They don’t care. Trump doesn’t care. I mean, have we forgotten how Trump, off the back of the Access Hollywood tape comments, weaponized Bill Clinton’s accusers to try and make Hillary look as guilty as he was on this issue, back in 2016?
Neil Cavuto: Minutes ago, Donald Trump at a table with Paula Jones, and Kathleen Shelton, and Juanita Broddrick, and blasts from the past that seemed to say, ‘I might say offensive things, that is Donald Trump. These people have witnessed Bill Clinton doing far more offensive things.’
MH: This time around, his idiot son Don, Jr., and his campaign manager, have already been tweeting furiously about Tara Reade. And there are reports that Trump himself has been discussing with aides how and when to bring it up. Publicly.
So should Democrats consider replacing Joe Biden before this becomes an even bigger issue, an even bigger liability for them? Parachute in an Andrew Cuomo or Gavin Newsom, a popular governor, to take his place? Or let second-place Bernie Sanders have the nomination? How would that even work?
The problem is that Democrats have become so polarized online, and the November election is such a high-stakes election, that you have on the one side, a bunch of people automatically accusing Biden of being a definite rapist who they cannot and will not vote for in November, and on the other side, a bunch of people automatically dismissing Reade as an attention-seeker, a Russian plant, as not credible, and sticking their heads in the sand on this. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.
MH: My guest today is someone who can cast a lot more light on all of this. He knows the Democratic Party inside out and he’s been one of the reporters who’s helped break open this story. He’s interviewed Tara Reade on multiple occasions — and I should add, he’s a good friend and colleague. The Intercept’s DC bureau chief Ryan Grim.
Ryan, welcome back to the show.
RG: Good to be here, Mehdi.
MH: It’s a shame you’re here, though, to discuss what is such a horrific and, if true, sad story. When did you first hear the name Tara Reade?
RG: I don’t remember much about her story from April 2019 when she, when she went public, among a slew of women saying that he — that Biden had, you know, inappropriately touched them in ways that made them feel uncomfortable, kind of in the wake of Lucy Flores making that, that allegation.
So I believe it was March 8, I’d have to go back and check my records, I’m pretty sure it’s March 8. A — an intermediary who doesn’t want to be named publicly reached out to me and said, you know, ‘I’ve been in contact with a woman who says that she was sexually assaulted by Joe Biden,’ you know, “Would you be willing to talk to her?”
And I said, you know, ‘Sure,’ you know, ‘Connect us.’ And we spoke fairly shortly after that.
MH: Although correct me if I’m wrong, you didn’t, in your initial piece for The Intercept, you didn’t report the details of the sexual assault allegations, you focused on the fact that the Time’s Up defense fund wouldn’t support her case against Biden.
RG: Right. I reported that she wanted to come forward with a new allegation, went to Time’s Up, and ran into problems there.
MH: And then she goes on Katie Halper’s podcast. She describes in her own — in our own words, in our own voice, the details of that alleged assault — pretty graphically, pretty shocking stuff.
Before we get into kind of the politics of it, the media coverage, just dealing with her specifically — and I should acknowledge, we are two men discussing a sexual assault case. One of the things that a lot of people men and women who want to discredit a woman talking about sexual assault is they ask a lot of questions, which sound like legitimate questions, but are often used to try and debunk, dismiss, discredit, smear a person coming forward.
I just want to run through, just as devil’s advocate. I’m not agreeing with these questions.
MH: I do want to put them to you because they are all over social media, from Biden supporters, from skeptical liberal feminists — from others. And just from general, you know, the general people who hear about the story and just say, “Well, hold on, what about …?”
So let me just put some to you.
MH: “Why do you think she took so long to come forward?” Some ask, “Why didn’t she raise this when Joe Biden was being nominated as Vice President 12 years ago in 2008?” “Why now?”
RG: She says a few things. You know, first of all, she says if, ‘I wanted to, which I didn’t, this was pre-#MeToo,’ and she didn’t even really know, you know, how exactly she would do that. Even in the post-#MeToo era she had a really hard time getting a hold of any national reporters.
But more to the point, what she says is that A: her daughter was young and still living with her — a teenager or early teenager, at the time. And she just didn’t want kind of national attention, you know, brought on her while her daughter was in this kind of formative time.
Now, she says her daughter is, is a, you know, a grown woman off, off on her own. Her ideas about the world are more fixed, you know, they’re not, she’s not going to be traumatized in the same way by this, that she would have been if she had gone through it as a, as a teenager. And so that’s, that’s one point.
And the second point was that she was quite supportive of Obama and didn’t want to do anything that would, that would blow up Obama. And so, kind of, those two things combined, she says, to keep, to keep her quiet.
MH: Okay. And her story, you mentioned April 2019, we have to acknowledge her story changed, too, quite a bit from last year, telling a local Nevada newspaper that Biden touched her neck and shoulder, he rubbed her shoulder and said he liked her legs, to now, this year saying it was a full-on sexual assault, that he violated her with his fingers.
RG: So I wouldn’t use the word ‘change’ for that. It’s fairly common in, kind of, survivor literature that, that survivors come forward gradually. And it’s intuitive if you think about it.
So I would say that she added onto her story, she told more of her story, rather than say that she changed it. Because she, she has not changed any of her original story. She — she stands by, you know, everything she — everything she said back in April 2019. What she says is that there was an additional part that, that she didn’t share.
You know, she says that after Lucy Flores came out, she was watching The View. And the ladies of The View kind of went after Flores pretty hard. And she, she said to herself, you know, ‘I can’t sit here and watch Flores getting hammered, when I know that he did similar things to me,’ like you said.
RG: You know, running his fingers through her hair and rubbing her shoulder. And she had filed a complaint about this, she says, and so she felt like she was on 100 percent solid ground here, rather than a “he said, she said,” with, with no witnesses.
RG: And so, you know, she spoke to her local paper.
MH: And, and just a reminder to our listeners, Lucy Flores is the Nevada State Assemblywoman who came out last April, around the time Biden was kicking off his presidential campaign, to say that he had invaded her personal space. He’d kissed her on the back of her head. And it led to Biden making that kind of stilted, belated apology, and saying he would do better around women.
RG: Right. Right. And so she wanted to, you know, add her voice to the chorus of people saying that this has been a pattern with Biden.
RG: He needs to do something about it. And so she felt like she could safely do that, you know, retain some level of privacy, because as one of seven or eight women speaking, you know, she wasn’t going to become a household name.
And indeed she didn’t. You know, I can’t even remember if I remember her name from then.
MH: She didn’t become a household name, but she was subjected to some pretty serious criticism even back then.
MH: Focused on her posts about Vladimir Putin, there was some weird Medium posts by her where she called Putin a compassionate, caring visionary leader, where she slammed people in the United States for being anti-Putin and anti-Russia, and people at The Atlantic and other publications, as well as a lot of, let’s call them, ‘Biden bros’ today online —
RG: [laughs] Yes.
MH: Are using that as a way of trying to discredit her, saying these, “This is a weird view. Is she a Russian plant?” What’s, what’s the response to that?
RG: Well, it’s, you know, if you were Russian plant it would be rather absurd to give away the game like that. You know, I’ve, I’ve watched The Americans; they don’t, they don’t write blog posts about their love of the U.S.S.R.—they try to blend in. So I think we can safely dismiss that bit of speculation.
On the other hand, for sure, to the question of a person’s credibility, you know, can you, you know, read through some of those posts and say, “Wow, what on earth is she talking about with Vladimir Putin here?”
You know, she has an explanation for it. And it’s kind of a two-part one. One is that her mother was a left-wing, feminist activist who really taught her to not not believe what the mainstream media is telling you about American imperialism and about American exceptionalism. You know, so she was, she was raised to be one of those people that if the media says something is true that, you know, she’s often going to believe the opposite. We all know people like that.
At the same time, she was, she went down some YouTube rabbit hole, where she was watching a ton of Oliver Stone videos, where Oliver Stone had his phase, or maybe he’s still in that phase, where, where he’s become not just a Putin apologist, but an actual kind of advocate for him.
And so, you know, you watch enough YouTube, you can start to believe some things that appear quite wacky —
RG: — to people who haven’t gone down that, that rabbit hole.
MH: And if you read the stuff from that period, it clearly is wacky.
MH: But on the other hand, we should also be clear that she’s very explicitly said she does not want Trump to be president, she does not want him to win — unlike Juanita Broddrick, the woman who accused Bill Clinton of raping her, who turned up at the presidential debates in 2016 to support Trump.
No, she’s, she has always been conflicted about this question, because she certainly doesn’t want to be responsible for electing Donald Trump. But at the same time, she doesn’t want to stay silent.
MH: OK. What about her praising Biden until very recently, people will see her saying on Twitter in 2017, “My old boss speaks truth, listen:” and then linking to a Biden statement. A lot of people see that and say, “That’s weird that she was still praising him.”
They listened to her mother on CNN, the clip that you helped uncover on Larry King, saying she had respect for the senator, which is why she didn’t go public. People would say, “Why would you say ‘My old boss speaks the truth’? Why would you have respect for someone who you allege sexually assaulted you?”
RG: In the survivor literature, that’s also a fairly well-established phenomenon. You know, you saw it with Harvey Weinstein and you see it with, you know, victims, all across the spectrum, saying positive things about people that they, that they later accuse of, of assaulting them or harassing them.
You know, it’s, it’s probably a bit too complex of a human phenomenon to — for me to even, even explain in a simple way. But it’s just, it happens. She would not be remotely the first person to have followed that pattern.
And in fact, it almost seems more common than not sometimes when the person you’re accusing is a, is a, is a powerful figure —
RG: — and somebody that a lot of people respect, it has a lot to do with how you process and rationalize the experience and the trauma that you went through.
MH: But you understand, just to put the other side of the story, you understand why a lot of people who don’t believe her, or who are wary of her allegations, would say, “When you look at this, the record, here is someone who left Biden’s campaign, left Biden’s team in the Senate, carried on praising him, talking well about him publicly, comes out last year and says something which is not this, and then as soon as he’s about to get the presidential nomination, she comes out with this very damning allegation.” You can understand the skepticism, too, I think, from some.
RG: Sure. And I thought that Michelle Goldberg, writing in The New York Times early on, had, had a pretty good line about this question where she said, You know, ‘it would be easier to know what to make of the Tara Reade allegations, if there was more to them or there there was less to them.’
It’s kind of in this sweet spot where your priors can kind of drive you to whichever side of the question —
MH: Oh very much.
RG: — you want to end up on.
MH: And we’re seeing that in real time online.
MH: How bad is this right now for Joe Biden and for the Democrats? You have, as I mentioned, the Larry King clip that you discovered of her mother, speaking about something that happened to her daughter working in the Senate for Joe Biden. You have this neighbor, this former colleague, both coming forward on the record with Business Insider this week. You have more mainstream news organizations covering it. How bad is it? How bad is it gonna get, do you think?
RG: Part of it depends on, I think, what else emerges, whether, whether new people come out. The fact that the Biden campaign is, and maybe they don’t have many options, but the the option that they’ve chosen is, you know, full on, 100 percent denial of all of the facets of her allegations, including the sexual harassment in the workplace.
When you have a blanket denial like that — that, that can become chum for reporters, because each piece of corroborating evidence you find, then goes to the credibility of that blanket denial.
At the same time, you’re going to continue probably to see, you know, a drip, drip, drip of things challenging Tara Reade’s credibility, or the credibility of the people who have corroborated her story.
And so, you know, it’s all happening in the context of a global pandemic —
RG: — that has killed, you know, more Americans than died in the Vietnam War, and a world historic economic meltdown.
MH: And the fact that Biden is basically trapped in his basement because of that pandemic, and not out and about doing more interviews than normal, doing rallies, shaking people’s hands. It’s amazing that he has been able to get away, though, even despite all that, without having to personally address these allegations yet. He’s done a fair few interviews. No one’s brought them up.
On Tuesday, he was busy doing a violence against women online town hall with Hillary Clinton. You can’t make this stuff up!
RG: Right. And so, that is going to work to his advantage as long as that dynamic stays in place. You know, Trump could probably not have mishandled the pandemic any worse than he has. And so a huge number of Democrats and also, you know, skeptics of Trump are, I think, and quite justifiably, willing to make the intellectual conclusion that, ‘You know what? There’s a lot of corroborating evidence for Tara Reade’s claim, and I actually believe that, that this happened. But you know what? I was never voting for Joe Biden, because I was a huge fan of his anyway.’
RG: ‘And I’m still going to vote for him because he’s the vehicle to get Trump out of office.’
MH: Yes. As I found out, to my not-so-great surprise, the argument — the lesser of two evils argument doesn’t always go down so well.
RG: It doesn’t, but for the people who were already opposed to him, you know, they were already opposed to him — and for most of the people who were supporting him, probably, probably close to 100 percent of those who were supporting him, you know, the polls have showed they don’t agree with a lot of his politics and they’re, they’re willing to vote for him anyway.
And so they’re quite willing to have this thrown on the pile.
MH: The classic example of that, Ryan, is the neighbor who corroborates the fact that Tara Reade told her in the 90s about this sexual assault claim, mentioned the hand going up the skirt, has the, you know, the, the damning details, and yet she’s a Biden supporter who says, “I’m still gonna vote for Joe Biden, but I want to come out and say this because I want to support Tara Reade.”
RG: Right. And I think that, that’s an — that’s an intellectually and ethically consistent position if somebody wants to, wants to hold that.
RG: We mentioned how Biden’s been able to get away with this; this has been in his favor. Surely that changes this Sunday, if he ends up going on any more Sunday morning shows, because this story is now on CNN, it is in The New York Times and The Washington Post. And some of the women running to, you know, in the running to be his vice president have been asked about it.
RG: Right. They sure have. And, you know, we’ve hit a threshold where, you know, people are now being asked about it and, and he should be asked about it, he should address it personally. It’s not fair that his female surrogates are the ones that have to answer for the actions of a man, or the alleged actions of a man.
But, you know, that is that has historically been the case in situations like this. It’s, it’s women who end up taking, taking the fall for it. Rebecca Traister had had a good piece on it.
RG: On the bind that this puts his inevitable female vice president in.
MH: It’s almost the, it’s the double bind, right? Because in general, women will be called on in the Democratic Party to explain for this or justify this, but in his case, he said a woman will be his running mate.
MH: And therefore, those women whose names we know — Amy Klobuchar, Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren — they, they are the ones who are getting asked about this. I mentioned and played a clip from a Kamala Harris interview earlier in the show.
Let me just play you a clip of Stacey Abrams, who is also in the running to be Joe Biden’s running mate. She was on CNN on Tuesday night with Don Lemon and he put this to her.
Don Lemon: Is this a credible allegation?
Stacey Abrams: I believe that women deserve to be heard. And I believe that they need to be listened to.
But I also believe that those allegations have to be investigated by credible sources. The New York Times did a deep investigation, and they found that the accusation was not credible. I believe Joe Biden. I believe that he is a person who’s demonstrated that his love of family, his love of our community, has been made perfectly clear through his work as a congressional leader, and as an American leader.
I know Joe Biden, and I think that he is telling the truth, and that this did not happen.
MH: Ryan, when you listen to Stacey Abrams, giving that answer, how much is her heart in that? How much is her head in that?
MH: It feels like she knows she has to say this.
RG: Well, we know from reporting that the Biden campaign’s talking points —
RG: I believe it was BuzzFeed that broke that news — you know, that she was basically reading from those those talking points, which say —
MH: Including the New York Times line.
RG: “use The New York Times, fall back on the New York Times.” The New York Times has come out and said, “Well, that’s not actually, precisely what our, our story said.”
MH: Yeah, the New York Times line is almost, I’m sorry to say, it’s almost a Trumpian lie. The New York Times does not say anywhere in their reporting that they have exonerated Joe Biden or cleared him in any way. And it’s an outdated piece. That piece came out before the neighbor, before the neighbor’s testimony, before the former colleague’s testimony, before the Larry King clip.
RG: And it’s a risky strategy, because what if The New York Times re-reports the story —
MH: Oh, yes. Good point.
RG: And comes out, you know, interviews Linda, and some of the other people have since come out.
MH: Good point. [Laughs.]
RG: Now, The New York Times, you know, now you’ve lost that leg of your, of your talking point.
MH: Live by the New York Times, die by The New York Times. It is, it is depressing to see these very prominent, well qualified, intelligent, respected, Democratic politicians, who are women, and are being asked about Joe Biden, and Joe Biden’s not being asked about Joe Biden. And it’s gonna hurt the credibility of the Democratic Party and feminists in the Democratic Party for a long time.
I look at this story and I wonder what former Senator Al Franken makes of all of this. He was driven out of the Senate, by his own Democratic colleagues, led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand over groping allegations, nowhere near as serious as the allegations now being leveled at Joe Biden.
RG: Right. And one of the, one of the structural problems that this has exposed, is that the #MeToo movement is still evolving a way to think about adjudicating and finding justice in situations like this. You know, the first step was getting to the place where women felt like they could be heard and even, in a lot of cases, believed. But Democrats and the #MeToo movement never, never settled on any agreement or consensus around: well, well, OK — then what?
RG: And so Republicans played by one rule, which is that nothing matters.
RG: And yes, we could replace Brett Kavanaugh, but to make a point, you know, we’re not going to, we’re going to ram him on to the Supreme Court. Whereas Democrats played by the other rule, which is Al Franken, you know, you, you have to go.
And I feel like there’s a lot of regret among Democrats in the way that the Al Franken situation went down, and I think that is actually coloring, you know, how this goes down?
MH: Yeah. What’s interesting to me, Ryan, is I wonder if these allegations, if Tara Reade had come out last April May, and said what she said this March, would Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris, and Stacey Abrams, and others be taking a very different position.
Because if you remember, and I remember, and I know the media likes to consign things to the memory hole, but the reality is Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris, and others came out very strongly last April, May, saying they believed the women, the seven women, including Tara Reade and Lucy Flores, who came forward and accused Joe Biden of invading their personal space, of touching them when he, you know, without their permission, of hugging them and kissing them. And they said they believed them.
So I wonder whether, if she had made this claim then, when they knew he still could be beaten.
MH: It was early days in the primaries, would they have taken a much more different stance? And would we’ve seen Warren and Harris and others coming out saying, “This needs to be investigated.” Rather than, “We believe, Joe.” Because right now, Joe is the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate. They have to believe Joe.
RG: Right. And not just them. I think you’d have had Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke and I think the entire field would have said —
MH: Sanders has been completely silent on this as far as I’m aware.
RG: Right. And — I think he said he didn’t know a lot of the details when he was asked at a livestream, but that he still supports Biden. But yeah, there was very little. It was kind of, ‘I need to learn that details’ kind of answer.
But yes, if, if it emerged at the time, if she had come out with her allegation at the time, the Larry King clip emerges, that the neighbor who she told about it in ’95 or ’96, emerged, as her brother, her friend — I think absolutely he’s, he’s being called to account for it by other Democrats in the race and it probably fatally wounds his, his campaign at that point because democrats would say, “We have to pick a nominee.”
RG: You know, “Why pick one whose number one calling card is electability and now we’re a little bit nervous about his electability?” Even putting aside all of the, the moral and ethical questions.
MH: Do you think, Ryan, there’s any chance that Biden drops out of this race or is forced by other senior Democrats to drop out over this story, this accusation?
RG: Not at, not at this moment. More, much more would have to come out, you probably have to have more accusers. You know, as long as Biden is polling 10, 5-10 points ahead of Trump.
RG: He is the, he is the delegate leader, everyone else has dropped out, nobody in power is going to be calling for him to drop out. So, you know, that his polling numbers are, are kind of related to the attitude of the establishment toward his, his candidacy.
So if more accusations that are credible, you know, come forward, and people start to turn on him, then you could see his polling numbers decline, at which point, you know, donors and other senior officials in the Party, start to say, “OK, well, now — now this is a problem.” But as long as he’s polling in ahead of Trump, I think he’ll have the support of the Party leaders.
MH: And just because you know this stuff better than me, how would that even work hypothetically, were he to pull out or be pushed out? How would you get another candidate? At this digital Democratic Convention? Would the primaries have to continue? Could you parachute in Andrew Cuomo or Gavin Newsom above Bernie Sanders, who’s in second place in the primaries?
RG: Well, presumably the primaries would then kick back in gear and Biden would be — Biden and Sanders would be major brokers in the question of who would become the nominee. Because, you know, Biden would have a huge number of delegates that he’d be able to, you know, cobble together with other, other Democrats and deliver them to, to make a majority.
But, you know, it would be a complete mess. And nothing we’ve seen since democrats swapped out a vice presidential nominee in 1972 after the convention, Eagleton, and that was a political mess for them, which, you know, probably contributed in some part to their, you know, historic wipeout.
MH: Ryan, just before I let you go, let me ask you this question: If you mention this story, this accusation, online, you either get hardcore Bernie supporters saying, “See, see, he’s a rapist. This is why I can’t vote for him. They’re both rapists.”
Or you get hardcore Biden supporters saying, “What about Trump? He’s much worse, and you’re helping Trump.”
What’s your response to that last accusation in particular, that you and I merely by having this conversation — without saying, we believe Tara Reade or not, we think Joe Biden is a rapist or not — just by having the conversation and discussing the allegations are helping Trump?
RG: I think if we guide our behavior as journalists by a hope of some political outcome, then we’re no longer, we’re no longer journalists. And we don’t know exactly what the implications of, of our reporting and our commentary are even necessarily going to be.
You know, it may be that this was coming out one way or the other, and that it would have been much more damaging perhaps for Biden, if it came out in October.
RG: You know, six months is a very long time. You know, from — you know, Biden now has the opportunity to figure out, you know, how he’s going to, to handle this. And if he can figure out a way to get it behind him, then he’s in much better shape than if, if it dropped on him in October.
MH: Also the idea that if you and I or other people don’t talk about Tara Reade, Donald Trump and the Republicans won’t, is rather naive.
RG: Right. Right. She was determined to come up. She was not coaxed, or or persuaded by Katie Halper to tell her story. She was going to tell her story.
MH: Well, let’s see where this goes. Ryan Grim, thanks so much for joining me on Deconstructed.
RG: Thanks for having me here.
MH: That was Ryan Grim, The Intercept’s DC bureau chief talking about the importance of this story, about the importance of reporting on this story, and pushing back against those who say, “We shouldn’t say anything about such allegations, because it might help Donald Trump.” We don’t know what’s going to help Donald Trump.
But I’d say this, if I had to bet on it, I would say that Democrats and the media not talking about this story probably helps Donald Trump because it leaves the field open for him to do what he wants with it. And also, separate to the politics of this, there’s the morality of this. As I said earlier in the show, if you only care about sexual assault accusations when they’re against Republicans and not Democrats, you don’t really care about sexual assault accusations.
That’s our show! Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.
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