The Democratic and Republican parties are set to run candidates for president in 2020 who have been accused by women of sexually assaulting them. This week on Intercepted: Two dozen women have accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault, including rape. Trump has responded by denigrating, mocking, and attacking his accusers. Eight women have made allegations of misconduct against Joe Biden, and one of them has accused him of sexual assault. Biden, who is running on a campaign to restore dignity and honesty to the White House, emphatically denies that he assaulted his former staffer Tara Reade and has sought to explain away his conduct toward his other accusers by portraying his unwanted touching as his way of being affectionate. The New Republic’s Melissa Gira Grant discusses Reade’s allegations, Biden’s response, and the broader discourse in the media and the Democratic Party surrounding the actions of the presumptive nominee toward women.
Former Nevada lawmaker Lucy Flores says Biden touched her inappropriately, kissed her head, and sniffed her hair when he was campaigning for her. She says she didn’t report it to the Obama White House at the time for fear of retaliation or rejection, but when Biden began to run for president, she felt an obligation to speak out. Flores was soon followed by seven other women sharing similar stories. She discusses her experience with Biden, what it means that the Democratic Party is standing by him, and the impact of a choice between Trump and Biden.
Elise Swain: This is a content warning to our listeners. This episode of Intercepted contains descriptions of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and graphic descriptions of rape and sexual assault throughout the entirety of the program.
Martha MacCallum: Welcome back to our Fox News virtual town hall, “America Together: Returning to Work.”
Bret Baier: As president, what do you say to the people who are scared to go back to work?
Donald J. Trump: Uh — I don’t care. Too bad. It’s always bad. And I don’t want to — I don’t care about it. We’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000, or 90 or 95. If you call losing 80 or 90,000 people successful, good. It’s OK with us. The employees have to work. Now, if they don’t want to work, make them work. They’re not feeling great.
BB: Our next question for the president comes from Clearwater, Fla. Here it is.
Alex Jones: I will eat my neighbors. I’m not letting my kids die. I’m just gonna be honest, because I’m somebody that thought I could fix this, and I’m starting to think about having to eat my neighbors. I’ll do it!
DJT: OK. I love the question, actually, because what I did is — I was saying, it’s going to pass, not going to be a big deal. People aren’t dying from it. The doctors would say, “Well, you shouldn’t say that.” I’ll say what I think. And then one day they said, “Sir, what’s your problem? What is your problem?”
BB: Mr. President, last thing. What do you tell your kids and grandkids about Covid-19, about this time?
DJT: You know, we’re all playing a very complicated game of chess or poker — name whatever you want to name. Space Force. Space Force. But it’s not checkers, that I can tell you. It’s called America first.
BB: President Trump. Thank you very much for your time.
DJT: Thank you.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted. I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from my basement in New York City. And this is episode 129 of Intercepted.
DJT: You’re a famous guy, then you become president. And people just — people that you’ve never seen, that you’ve never heard of, make charges. So, you know, I guess in a way you could say I’m sticking up for him… But I would just say to Joe Biden, just go out and fight it.
JS: The Democratic and Republican parties are set to run candidates for president in 2020 who have both been accused by women of sexually assaulting them. In the case of Donald Trump, it’s several women. In the case of Joe Biden, it’s one woman. Trump also has some two dozen accusers who allege that he has done everything from harass and fondle them to raping them. Joe Biden has eight women who have alleged that he acted inappropriately toward them, including unwanted touching, kissing, and sniffing of their hair, and one accusation of rape.
Donald Trump has responded to the allegations against him by fighting some of the women in court and by publicly attacking them, smearing them, and denigrating them.
DJT: You take a look. Look at her, look at her words. You tell me what you think. I don’t think so.
Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you.
The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.
JS: Joe Biden, on the other hand, has offered carefully worded statements claiming that his intentions were good and that sometimes he has inadvertently invaded women’s personal space, but that it’s just the affectionate kind of guy he is, from the generation he’s from, and he’s just a hugging kind of guy.
His apologies have been phrased so that what he’s actually saying is that he’s sorry if someone misinterpreted his innocent affection. In the case of his former staffer Tara Reade, who alleges a very serious sexual assault by Biden inside the U.S. Senate, his campaign eventually issued an emphatic written denial of Reade’s allegations. And the Biden team encouraged its supporters privately to tell the media that the allegations have been investigated by reputable news organizations and are false.
But as more and more news outlets began to report on the allegations and more corroborating witnesses emerged, Biden was forced to break his personal silence. And he did it on the extremely friendly turf of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, in an interview with host Mika Brzezinski.
Mika Brzezinski: Would you please go on the record with the American people? Did you sexually assault Tara Reade?
Joe Biden: No, it is not true. I’m saying unequivocally — It never, never happened. And itt didn’t. It never happened.
JS: After Biden’s appearance on MSNBC, there was a concerted campaign of harassment that intensified against Tara Reade, with hashtags trending that called Reade a liar and proclaimed #IBelieveBiden. Reade has been mercilessly attacked, had her past rifled through, was accused of being a Russian agent. And she has, she says, been subjected to death threats. Joe Biden has not publicly told his supporters to cease these intensifying attacks against her. This campaign of attempted character assassination against Reade have been bolstered by more official establishment voices, with her allegations being discredited or rejected by major Democratic Party figures, New York Times columnists, and at the highest levels of power within the Democratic National Committee.
Nancy Pelosi: I’m a big, strong supporter of the #MeToo movement. I think it’s been a great — made a great contribution to our country. And I do support Joe Biden. I’m satisfied with how he has responded.
JS: I do not know what happened between Joe Biden and Tara Reade. It may well be the case that only the two of them truly know. But the allegations are very serious, and they warrant a real independent investigation that does not place at its center the desire to defeat Donald Trump in November’s election. Rather, her allegations against an extremely powerful politician running to be president of the United States should be taken seriously independent of the political consequences and aggressively pursued. It cuts directly to the question of Joe Biden’s fitness to serve and to the issue of accountability in general.
If what Reade says happened, happened, Joe Biden should not be a candidate for any office in this country, and he should face the consequences of his actions. At the same time, Biden’s emphatic denial should be noted, as should his right to due process. Biden should be offered the presumption of innocence in the context of an actual serious investigation aimed at getting to the truth. That is not what we are currently witnessing. Right now, this is all trial by media and social media. Mostly, it’s a trial of Tara Reade, and the prosecution includes scores of Biden supporters motivated by their political preferences rather than facts or concern for the experience of women who allege assault. It is also relevant that as his supporters accuse Reade of lying, that Biden himself has a long history of telling documentable lies, including about his own personal history, and his public behavior toward women, and the stories of women he has made uncomfortable, or he has inappropriately touched. Those are also relevant.
Tara Reade’s allegation that Joe Biden forced her against a wall and penetrated her body with his fingers stems from her time working for Biden in 1993. Now, much focus is being placed on a complaint that Reade says she filed at the time. Reade herself has said consistently that that complaint did not lay out the sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden.
Now, after the Associated Press ran a headline recently that gave the impression that this was somehow a new revelation, Biden’s supporters latched on to it as some sort of a smoking gun, proving that the assault didn’t happen. It’s a ridiculous hill to stake a defense of Biden on, on multiple levels. Among these is the context of what was happening on Capitol Hill at the time, and who Joe Biden was in the Senate.
Biden had just chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Clarence Thomas, in which one of Thomas’s accusers, Anita Hill, was character assassinated by that committee. At first, Biden and the committee were not going to hear Hill’s testimony. But many women lawmakers demanded that Anita Hill be heard.
Nita Lowey: One of the reasons we’re here is that it’s very difficult for some of our colleagues to deal with issues of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is painful. It exists. It’s real. It’s not imaginary. There’s not only a gender gap in our country, there’s a gender chasm.
Mary Rose Oakar: Sexual harassment is every bit as evil as any other type of unethical conduct.
JS: I recently rewatched the documentary “Anita,” about those hearings, and there are some incredible moments that are relevant to how some Democrats are currently attacking Tara Reade. Here’s Senator Barbara Mikulski speaking at the time about the smear campaign against Anita Hill and demanding that the Senate reconvene to hear her testimony before proceeding with Thomas’s confirmation.
Barbara Mikulski: To any victim of sexual harassment, or sexual abuse, or sexual violence, either in the street or in even in our own home, the message is: nobody’s going to take you seriously, not even the United States Senate.
JS: Joe Biden presided over hearings that amounted to Anita Hill being put on trial herself, repeatedly humiliated, having her reputation dragged through the mud on national television. Biden personally joined with his colleagues in forcing Hill to publicly repeat some of the most painful episodes from her experience with Thomas over and over again.
JB: And what was that incident again?
Anita Hill: The incident with regard to the Coke can that’s spelled out in my statement?
JB: Would you describe it once again for me, please?
AH: The, um —
JS: Here’s Republican Alan Simpson questioning Hill.
Alan Simpson: If what you say this man said to you occurred, why in God’s name when he left his position of power, or status, or authority over you — and you left it in 1983 — why in God’s name would you ever speak to a man like that the rest of your life?
AH: That’s a very good question. And I’m sure that I cannot answer that to your satisfaction.
JS: Then there was this exchange with one of the GOP’s major attack dogs on that committee, Senator Arlen Specter.
Arlen Specter: So that you are not now drawing a conclusion that Judge Thomas sexually harassed you?
AH: Yes, I am drawing that conclusion, that is why —
AS: Well then, I don’t understand. Then I don’t understand.
AH: Well, let me try to explain again.
JS: Joe Biden and the committee ultimately blocked corroborating witnesses who would have backed up Anita Hill’s testimony by sharing their own experiences with Clarence Thomas.
Jane Mayer: Joe Biden — he really is, in the end, responsible for not having called the witnesses who could have corroborated Anita Hill. I think that there were a lot of facts here that a number of people would rather not think about.
JB: This entire proceeding is ended. [Gavel sound.]
JS: Thomas would go on to be confirmed to a lifetime appointment, and he sits on the U.S. Supreme Court to this day. So it was that Joe Biden who facilitated Clarence Thomas’s nomination going forward that Tara Reade went to work for, and that was the culture on Capitol Hill.
The message in the 1990s was that women who speak out against people like Bill Clinton or Clarence Thomas will be destroyed if they dare to tell their stories. You cannot examine Tara Reade’s allegations in any serious way without understanding this. And you cannot use what she did or did not say in her alleged complaint filed at the time as some evidence of Joe Biden’s innocence.
It took incredible strength for any woman to make any allegations against a powerful man, particularly the very Senator Joe Biden, who had just presided over a nationally televised character assassination of a woman who told her story of sexual harassment by a powerful man. And that man got promoted to one of the most powerful positions in the U.S. government, for life. Now, soon after Reade worked for Biden, Bill Clinton faced very serious allegations of sexual assault against him by women, beginning with Paula Jones in 1994, and then later Juanita Broaddrick. The Clinton team smeared Paula Jones mercilessly throughout the 1990s, and Clinton won reelection in 1996. And Bill Clinton’s supporters used the same type of demeaning language that Donald Trump uses to describe his accusers, language that is rooted in mocking the appearance and social status of the accusers. Jones was ridiculed as trailer trash on comedy shows.
Jay Leno: Paula Jones, are you there?
Unknown actor: I’m coming, I’m coming. Like I told the president, keep your pants on.
JS: And Clinton confidant and adviser James Carville said this in attacking Paul Jones.
James Carville: What I said was, was it was about money. And what I said — and I said that from day one. I said it the day the lawsuit was filed. And guess what? I’m right. That’s all it’s about.
JS: So this is the context that is necessary to understand when assessing how Tara Reade approached her response, and what she was going to say, and when she was going to say it in response to Biden’s alleged assault. It was the era of Bill Clinton and Clarence Thomas being promoted while their accusers were being destroyed publicly. Now, for her part, Anita Hill recently released a statement on this matter. It read in part, quote, “Joe Biden has denied Tara Reade’s sexual assault allegations, but that should not be the end of the inquiry.”
Hill said the allegations against both Biden and Trump should be investigated, and the findings made public. Anita Hill went on, “How we proceed comes down to whether we take allegations of sexual violation seriously enough to insist that public institutions have fair procedures in place that protect individuals’ rights to come forward and the rights of those who are accused to defend themselves.”
Coming up later in this program, we are going to be talking to another woman who has alleged that Joe Biden acted inappropriately toward her. Her name is Lucy Flores, and she’s a longtime member of the Democratic Party, a former Nevada state legislator, and former candidate for lieutenant governor. But we begin today by looking at the range of allegations against both Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
As it stands currently, come November, we may have two major party presidential candidates facing serious sexual assault and rape allegations. At least 25 women are on record accusing Donald Trump of behavior ranging from sexual harassment to rape. These allegations include Karena Virginia, who says Trump groped her at the US Open in New York in 1998.
Karena Virginia: He then walked up to me and reached his right arm and grabbed my right arm. Then his hand touched the right inside of my breast. I was in shock. I flinched. “Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know who I am?” That’s what he said to me.
JS: Temple Taggart says Trump kissed her without consent on two occasions.
Temple Taggart: He indicated that he wanted to introduce me to various modeling agencies. I had traveled to New York with two chaperones to meet with him at his office located in Trump Tower. To my surprise, Mr. Trump embraced me and kissed me on the lips for a second time. It was that second kiss that made me wonder what his intentions really were.
JS: Tasha Dixon says Trump would walk into beauty pageant dressing rooms unannounced.
Tasha Dixon: To have the owner come waltzing in when we’re naked or half-naked — in a very physically vulnerable position — and then to have the pressure of the, you know, the people that work for him telling us to go fawn all over him, go walk up to him—
JS: Natasha Stoynoff says that Trump sexually assaulted her in 2005 at his Mar-a-Lago home while his wife Melania was in another room. In a 2016 column, Stoynoff wrote, “We walked into that room alone, and Trump shut the door behind us. I turned around, and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.”
Jess Cagle: Why didn’t you come forward at the time?
Natasha Stoynoff: It could hurt my career. I could lose my job. I could be, you know, sued. All the things that are happening now is what I worried about then.
JS: Jessica Leeds says that Donald Trump assaulted her while sitting next to him on a flight in the late 1970s.
Jessica Leeds: The stories of those other — what, 14, 15 women? They’re all the same. And none of them have colluded with each other. So, this is an M.O. of this man.
JS: There are many more allegations, including allegations of rape from journalist E. Jean Carroll and from Trump’s ex-wife Ivana Trump. She later slightly altered her story to say she felt violated at times. Donald Trump has denied all these accusations against him, and he’s taken the additional cruel step of denigrating his accusers and calling some of them liars.
DJT: Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign.
JS: There have been many allegations against Donald Trump, and we all have been subjected to the way that he is attacking his accusers. More recently, though, Joe Biden has become the focus of media attention on this issue. At least eight women have accused Biden of unwanted touching. These allegations include Amy Lappos, says she had an encounter with Biden at a political fundraiser when he was vice president.
Amy Lappos: — put his hands behind my head and pulled me close, and I thought, he’s going to kiss me. And he was still pulling me in, and I was like, oh, OK, I think he is actually going to kiss me. And he started rubbing noses with me. And he was still holding on to my face and rubbing noses, and then stopped.
JS: D.J. Hill also described uncomfortable touching from Joe Biden.
D.J. Hill: I felt, and my husband noticed, that Mr. Biden’s hand that had been on my shoulder slowly disappeared and did a low or a slow descent down my back until he reached my waist.
JS: Caitlyn Caruso met then-Vice President Biden at an event she was speaking at about her sexual assault.
Caitlyn Caruso: I was invited to speak about my story of sexual assault, and afterward I was able to meet him and share my story. And during the encounter, he was a little uncomfortably physically affectionate. Left his hand on my thigh, maybe in an attempt to console me. But regardless, it crossed my boundaries and made me feel uncomfortable.
JS: Now, other women have come forward also describing unwanted touching that has made them feel uncomfortable and unequal. And one accusation has gone even further, that of Tara Reade, the former Senate staffer who worked for Biden in the early 1990s. Reade says that she decided to reveal more details of her allegations against Biden when it became increasingly clear that he was not going to drop out of the presidential race.
Reade says she reached out to other media outlets, reporters, and politicians before January, but no one responded except, she says, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office, which she says recommended that she contact her local representative. Joining me now to discuss the details of Reade’s case and what it means to have two leading presidential candidates facing numerous disturbing sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault allegations against them is Melissa Gira Grant, staff writer at the New Republic. Melissa has reported on gender, sexuality, politics, and justice for more than a decade. She’s the author of “Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work.” Melissa Gira Grant, welcome to Intercepted.
Melissa Gira Grant Discusses Tara Reade’s Allegations, Biden’s Denial, and Media Response
MGG: Thanks for having me, Jeremy.
JS: Let’s start with the current occupant of the White House, Donald Trump. We have at least two dozen women who have made allegations varying in seriousness against him, ranging from sexual harassment to outright rape. And we’re going to be talking in detail also about the allegations against Joe Biden in a little bit, but first, lay out what we understand about Trump and his relationship with women, particularly women who have accused him of sexual harassment, assault, rape.
MGG: I think the troubling theme with Trump is, unlike someone like Joe Biden and most people, to be honest, who are high profile and accused of some form of sexual assault or harassment, he seems to not be troubled all that much by the allegations, to put it mildly. Right? Particularly something like the Access Hollywood tape —
DJT: I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet.
[Billy Bush laughs.]
DJT: Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
Billy Bush: Whatever you want.
DJT: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
MGG: There’s a way that it sort of fits, I think, into his larger sort of delusions of grandeur. I’m not saying he wears it as a badge of honor, but he doesn’t sort of follow the playbook — like the Harvey Weinstein playbook or others. There’s some denial. But I think on the other hand, there’s a level at which he thinks that this just adds to his sort of macho, dealmaking, “I can do whatever I want” relationship to politics, right?
JS: Coming out of the era of Bill Clinton, people still talk about the “Lewinsky scandal,” but of course, Bill Clinton was accused of very serious crimes by Juanita Broaddrick.
Juanita Broaddrick: It was not consensual.
Lisa Myers: You’re saying that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted you, that he raped you?
Juanita Broaddrick: Yes.
JS: And by Paula Jones.
Paula Jones: I’ll just put it this way, that he presented himself to me in a very unprofessional manner. And I would call it sexual harassment.
JS: Yet it’s still, “Oh, it was the Lewinsky scandal, and what it was about was a consensual relationship. Yes, he was the president. But let’s be honest, it was consensual,” when the reality is the most serious allegations against Bill Clinton were those of assault. And then we have Donald Trump run for office with his scores of women who have made serious allegations against him.
Rachel Crooks: About 12 years ago, as a young receptionist in Trump Tower, I was forcibly kissed by Mr. Trump during our first introduction.
Jessica Leeds: He started to put his hand up my skirt. And that was the last time I wore a skirt traveling.
Kristin Anderson: And next thing I know there’s a hand up my skirt.
Jill Harth: He just slipped his hand there, touching my private parts.
Summer Zervos: He then grabbed my shoulder, and began to kiss me again very aggressively, and placed his hand on my breast. I pulled back and walked to another part of the room. He then walked up, grabbed my hand, and walked me into the bedroom.
JS: He becomes president. Then we have Brett Kavanaugh nominated for a lifetime appointment at the Supreme Court. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford very bravely comes forward and tells her story.
Christine Blasey Ford: I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help. When I did, Brett put his hand over my mouth to stop me from yelling.
JS: And she is utterly destroyed in the press by right-wing Republicans, primarily, and Democrats saying, “Believe women #MeToo,” and Kavanaugh then goes ahead and gets confirmed. And now we have this reality that Trump, who regularly denigrates and insults the women who have made allegations against him, praises Brett Kavanaugh as this great man who was maligned.
DJT: He was totally guilty according to these very dishonest people, these — they’re Democrats in all cases. There has never been anybody treated in the history of Congress as badly as Brett Kavanaugh. And he’s an innocent man.
JS: What does it say that we are living in a society where a Donald Trump can be president, given all these allegations, and Brett Kavanaugh can be a Supreme Court justice? Because this happened throughout U.S. history. What seems to be slightly different is that you have a more visible recognition that women are being assaulted by powerful men, and that there should be consequences, but it seems to be applied unevenly, to say the least.
MGG: I would add, Trump also isn’t just smearing his accusers, right? He’s actually fighting them in court. So with the case of E. Jean Carroll, the former writer for Elle magazine, has a long career in media, who in a book, disclosed an experience she had with Donald Trump in a Bergdorf Goodman —
Jean Carroll: He pulled down my tights. And it was a fight. It was a — I want women to know that I did not stand there. I did not freeze. I was not paralyzed, which is a reaction that I could have had, because it’s so shocking. No, I fought. And it was over very quickly. It was against my will 100 percent.
MGG: She’s actually trying to take him to court for this. She’s trying to have DNA collected from him, so she can test it against the dress that she was wearing at the time, which she still has. This is somebody who seems untouchable. At least this court case is going forward, like, we will see what happens. I think it’s hard enough to come forward with an allegation of sexual assault, and then to have it be against a president who uses his platform in this way, in this petty way, this way that also redirects even more harassment at you, is quite terrifying.
And I think you kind of have to be maybe in this position of sort of influence, that this particular place in her career, have particularly high powered lawyers, like, supported by Time’s Up. That’s what E. Jean Carroll has to go against Trump with, and he’s still fighting her ferociously. And a lot of the other women who’ve come forward with allegations against Trump don’t have that. Maybe for many years, he thought that he could just prevail. I mean, there isn’t that much in our politics that says, “If you have a sexual assault or sexual harassment allegation against you, that’s the end of your career.”
This has happened sometimes. But I think Trump, particularly in the context of the Republican Party, isn’t necessarily someone who’s going to face the consequences for that. Kavanaugh turned us up to 11 with that kind of political environment. I don’t think that it was necessarily a sharp turn towards a different kind of willingness to accept that you could have somebody who’s sitting on the highest court who themselves is credibly accused of criminal acts — was accused under oath of this by his accuser. I think that that’s just an intensification of this environment that, you know, some people call it rape culture. I prefer just to call it patriarchy.
There’s absolutely nothing in our politics that says that men can’t get away with this over and over again. And just as Trump is sort of an amplification of some of the worst things in our political history, I think with rape, it’s very similar.
JS: Let’s talk specifically about what E. Jean Carroll has asserted. This was an incident that she writes about in her book, “What Do We Need Men For?” She was in this dressing room. These are her words: “The moment the dressing room door is closed, he lunges at me, pushes me against the wall, hitting my head quite badly, and puts his mouth against my lips.” She continues on, “The next moment, still wearing correct business attire — shirt, tie, suit jacket, overcoat — he opens the overcoat, unzips his pants, and, forcing his fingers around my private area, thrusts his penis halfway or completely — I’m not certain — inside me. It turns into a colossal struggle.”
Jean Carroll has been destroyed also in the press. Donald Trump has led the kind of mocking and denigrating of her and the gaslighting of her.
EJC: He shut the door and pushed me up against the wall, and bang, banged my head on the wall and kissed me. I just — it was so shocking.
Nancy Cordes: But in a new interview with The Hill newspaper, President Trump insists Carroll is totally lying. “I don’t know anything about her,” adding, “she’s not my type.”
MGG: The thing that gets me about E. Jean Carroll’s case as well is that, you know, she told people at the time, right? She says that she told actually two journalists, friends of hers. One was very clear with her and said, “He raped you. Go to the police, we’ll go together,” which she doesn’t do. Her second friend tells her, “Tell no one. He has 200 lawyers, he’ll bury you.” That’s how she remembers it. And they both confirmed those accounts to New York Magazine when they reprinted this part of her book.
It’s not unusual that someone doesn’t want to report to the police. You know, there are so many reasons not to do that. One, very few sexual assaults actually end up with anybody being held accountable in a court of law. An even smaller number may actually be incarcerated, if that’s what you even want. For many women who are in a position of power like E. Jean Carroll, to report to the police means potentially becoming a target yourself, whether they’re going to, you know, disbelieve you because of your past criminal record, whether they’re going to profile you based on your race or your gender identity. If you fought back, they may charge you yourself.
It’s absolutely 100 percent the norm to not immediately go to the police. And I think it’s just as normal to not report at all. So we’re really reliant on these contemporaneous accounts, as they’re getting called, right — you know, telling your friends at the time what happened and having a friend who’s willing to confirm it to a reporter later. E. Jean Carroll’s case also shows us that you can be somebody who is a successful woman, you can be somebody who also is already public, and you can still deal with all of these smears and attacks. It’s not enough to insulate you.
JS: Now, on March 24, the Intercept’s Ryan Grim published a story about how the organization Time’s Up declined to support Tara Reade in her allegation against Joe Biden, saying that it could threaten their nonprofit status, since Biden is a presidential candidate. After Ryan Grim publishes this story about Time’s Up, Katie Halper — host of a podcast called The Katie Halper Show and longtime progressive journalist — she publishes an interview with Tara Reade. And this is the first time that we’ve heard Tara Reade in her own words really describing the most serious allegations she’s making against Joe Biden.
Tara Reade: It happened all at once. The gym bag, I don’t know where it went. I handed it to him, it was gone. And then his hands were on me and underneath my clothes. And, um, yeah. And then he went — he went down my skirt, but then up inside it, and he penetrated me with his fingers. And um, I — he was kissing me at the same time and he was saying something to me. He said several things that — I can’t remember everything he said, I remember a couple of things. I remember him saying first, like, as he was doing it, “Do you want to go somewhere else?” And then him saying to me when I pulled away, he got finished doing what he was doing, and I kind of just pulled back, and he said, he said, “Come on, man. I heard you liked me.”
JS: I want to ask you about the way that this story evolved and the parts of it that Tara Reade chose to tell at different times. And in your experience as a woman but also as a journalist, is there anything about this that jumps out at you and says, “this woman isn’t credible, because she originally said this, but now she’s saying that?”
MGG: I mean, I can speak both as a woman and as someone who’s a survivor of sexual violence, and someone who’s done a lot of reporting on sexual violence and spoken to a lot of survivors. There’s nothing about the way that Tara Reade’s story has come out — you know, in partial versions, at first, and now we know more, there might even be more that we don’t know that she told friends over the years, maybe even not the whole story — I mean, none of this seems particularly like a red flag. If anything, it seems really normal for people who have had that experience to see somebody being treated that way for not presenting themselves as the kind of victim who it’s most convenient for them to believe. It’s very damaging.
It’s troubling, the degree to which then this becomes interpreted in sort of the narrative about Tara Reade as, “Well, #MeToo is failing. #MeToo is supposed to be about ‘Believe women.’ The Democrats are supposed to be about ‘Believe women.’” And believing women has always been conditional. Even for people who say, “Believe women.” I think it’s incredibly difficult to acknowledge that only some women are afforded the benefit of belief. You know, Rose McGowan had this quote about Tara Reade in a profile of Tara Reade at BuzzFeed a couple of days ago, where she says, you know, she’s being portrayed as a kook. She’s not the perfect kind of J. Crew woman that people wanted her to be. And that image just keeps coming back to me. You know, she’s not putting on the particular kind of class signals that someone like Christine Blasey Ford has the benefit of.
Watching sort of the story of Tara Reade’s allegations become larger than these very serious allegations didn’t surprise me, but it’s no less upsetting to see that Tara Reade herself has sort of been erased from the story, even as she’s been sort of sensationalized, right? That’s still not her. You aren’t your worst Medium posts. You aren’t your worst political take. Inconveniently, a survivor of sexual assault is not defined by their sexual assault alone. They’re a whole person. And to have this kind of standard where, if your politics are temporarily inconvenient, that you’re not going to be afforded belief — that sends a very dangerous message to any survivor of violence or anyone thinking of coming forward.
JS: As we understand more about what Tara Reade is alleging, it’s also relevant to look at the broader context of other allegations made against Joe Biden, which do not include, at this point, other allegations of rape. They do, however, include many allegations of unwanted physical touching, smelling hair, unwanted kisses. In fact, years ago, the Daily Show actually did a segment about the kind of notorious nature of the way Joe Biden seems to just be grabbing on women all the time.
Unidentified news anchor: Biden left his hands on Stephanie Carter’s shoulders for an estimated 28 seconds.
Jon Stewart: You seem tense. Is it the stress of me groping you for 28 straight seconds?
JS: Break down how you see what we all know from what is out in public on video, but also, what some of these other women have said about Joe Biden’s actions toward them and how it relates to the broader discourse right now about Joe Biden and Tara Reade.
MGG: Before Tara Reade came forward, just looking at that history of Joe Biden’s entitlement to women’s bodies — I mean, that to me is the common factor there, whether it’s somebody who’s up in your personal space uninvited, or it’s someone deliberately not picking up on your cues that, no, you don’t want a hug right now, someone who’s turning around on you that you’re the problem here for saying that you’re uncomfortable with this — like his defenders even sort of taking that posture of, you know, “You misinterpreted what this was.”
And the bottom line with that kind of behavior is entitlement, both entitlement to someone’s physical body, but then also entitlement to characterize what happened through whatever lens you have that allows you to continue that behavior. So that’s the Joe Biden, I think, that we’re coming into this moment with. And he’s also politically someone who is more than happy to use women as a defense and has over the course of his political career, specifically with the Violence Against Women Act, which he falls on over, and over, and over again to defend himself —
JB: Violence against women is a huge problem and especially right now. And Hillary and I have worked very hard on trying to end violence against women — wrote that legislation. And it’s been one of the leading causes of my life.
MGG: — as if somebody who supports women’s rights and opposes gender-based violence couldn’t also themselves act in this entitled way towards women or even commit sexual violence, which isn’t true at all. But the fact that he’s falling back on that kind of defense speaks to its own kind of entitlement, right? “How dare you. I support women.” To me, this doesn’t actually lend anything to his credibility. If anything, it makes me only question it deeper.
JS: For the entire duration of his time as the Democratic frontrunner and ultimately as the presumptive nominee, Biden never addressed these allegations directly. But they did send out his campaign talking points to Biden supporters and surrogates, directing them to say, on the one hand, “I know Joe Biden, and that’s completely inconsistent with what I know about Joe Biden,” and on the other hand, to point to a New York Times piece that was done about Tara Reade’s allegations against Joe Biden and to say that The New York Times looked into it and there was nothing there.
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.
JS: Before we talk about what Biden said on MSNBC when he finally was forced to address this, talk about the earlier actions of the Biden campaign to try to encourage people to discredit Reade by pointing to the New York Times or their own personal relationships with Joe Biden.
MGG: I think we should say right up front that The New York Times disputes this characterization of their reporting, right? They don’t say that there was nothing here. And if anything, only more reporting has come out. Even before Joe Biden appeared on MSNBC, we had the stories of two other women that Tara Reade told at the time, or a little after the time, and consistent stories of what happened to her. So even if it were just The New York Times, the Biden campaign clung to this idea that he had been exonerated both in the press and by his relationships, that, you know, he was his own best evidence, I guess, for being a stand-up guy.
I don’t understand, and I’m only made more depressed about the state of this, when I imagine what it would take for an adviser or someone working on the campaign to think that this is going to be their winning strategy. We’re going to lean into his feminist bona fides. We’re going to lean into “but women support him.” There was a lot of justifiable anger at the idea also that women, particularly women who might be vying for a position in a future Biden cabinet, or even as his VP, were then being asked about these allegations.
Amy Klobuchar: I think this case has been investigated. I know the vice president as a major leader on domestic abuse. I worked with him on that.
Gretchen Whitmer: I know Joe Biden, and I’ve watched his defense and there’s not a pattern that goes into this. And I think that for these reasons, I’m very comfortable that Joe Biden is who he says he is.
MGG: I understand why they’re being asked. You know, Biden himself was not responding to them. His campaign was responding with this “look to women” response. And it worked. I don’t think that it was necessarily a case of sexism to have women be the ones who were being asked about this. I think sexual assault is sort of a gendered thing. And women are sort of looked to as, like, the experts or the people who are going to be best positioned to tell these stories — which is bizarre, because that’s not how sexual assault works, but just in the way that the whole kind of issue is seen as feminized. I don’t think that that was as exceptional as it was made. But it definitely showed that what the Biden campaign wanted to do, and sort of portraying him as a defender of women, portraying him as someone who women had positive relationships with — they got that wish even before he came forward himself.
JS: Now on Friday, Joe Biden went on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and host Mika Brzezinski asked Biden directly if he had sexually assaulted Reade. And here’s what Joe Biden said.
JB: No, it is not true. I’m saying unequivocally — It never, never happened. And it didn’t. It never happened.
MB: Do you remember her? Do you remember any types of complaints that she might have made?
JB: I don’t remember any type of complaint she may have made. It was 27 years ago. And I don’t remember, nor does anyone else that I’m aware of. And the fact is that I don’t remember. I don’t remember any complaint ever having been made.
JS: What is your reaction and response to that interview?
MGG: It wasn’t really adding anything new. I don’t know if I expected Biden to put on a more convincing face all of a sudden, but I wasn’t convinced by what I saw. It just raised more questions for me.
JS: What I do think it did was it gave then his base and some of the most rabid people — who have been smearing Reade and using hashtags about her being a liar — now they can say, “See, he has set the right tone by saying we must allow women’s stories to be told and journalists to investigate it. But at the end of the day, it’s a false allegation against me.” And that’s been the chief piece of “evidence” that has been latched onto. And what happened after that appearance on Biden is just an unreal ratcheting up of the attacks against Reade by Biden’s supporters. For all the talk about toxicity in this campaign, my god — Reade had to cancel an interview because of death threats that she and other family members are enduring right now. And Biden has said nothing to his supporters to stop doing this at all.
MGG: Particularly when that was another talking point during the campaign — right? — that you’re responsible for the worst behaviors of your most ardent supporters. You know, it’s troubling to me that only after Biden appeared, we start to hear from sort of the large mainstream women’s organizations. You know, Women’s March issues a statement. The president of PPFA — Planned Parenthood Federation of America — issues a statement. That this is sort of like waiting for the man to weigh in seems like sort of an unusual tack to take. And there was some reporting before Biden went on MSNBC that these groups and others were pressing him to come forward, they were going to issue some kind of open letter, and that the campaign actually was able to suppress that or temporarily redirect them.
It would have said a lot more, I think, if those organizations had come out beforehand, even if it was a statement that was not that different from what Biden said, right? “We need to investigate these thoroughly. We support a woman’s right to tell her story.” The behavior of women’s groups here, I think, should not be let off the hook either. It’s very troubling to me that already, you’re unwilling to hold this person accountable. I can understand entirely why women’s organizations want anything but the current occupant of the White House to remain there, but you can “both, and” this, right? You can say, “We deserve better than that. This is a dangerous president. And the way that Joe Biden is addressing these allegations is wrong.”
It already for me sort of sets up a power dynamic that is just as troubling. Even if he manages to win, you know, who are sort of the credible voices for women’s rights to hold him accountable, if all these large organizations have already said, “Well, we’re gonna stand by you. In fact, we’re going to hold our fire when you ask us to?”
JS: You know, the DNC is rejecting calls for an independent investigation. On Sunday, Martha Raddatz of ABC’s This Week asked the chair of the DNC, Tom Perez, why the DNC is not convening an independent panel to investigate Reade’s allegations. And this is what Perez said.
Tom Perez: I’m very familiar with vice presidential vetting process. They look at everything about you. They looked at the entire history of Joe Biden — his entire career — and I’ll tell you, if Barack Obama had any indication that there was an issue, Barack Obama would not have had him as his vice president. Barack Obama trusted Joe Biden. I trust Joe Biden.
JS: What do you make of this particular line that has become, you know, ubiquitous — that Obama vetted Joe Biden, and none of this came up, therefore it must be totally false and timed to damage Joe Biden?
MGG: Joe Biden can only be “thoroughly vetted” in this case if you also believe that any woman who he sexually harassed or sexually assaulted has also come forward with a complaint or some kind of evidence record that’s available to you, right? And we know in the case of Tara Reade that there even was a little bit of a paper trail, as far as she’s told us so far. It’s a very convenient sort of way to also duck behind President Obama — right? And to say that this is somebody who got Obama’s trust, so why isn’t it good enough for you?
We already know that that’s not the case, right, that we’ve learned things about Biden since he would have been vetted by the Obama administration that are very troubling. And it’s a mistake to sort of look for some sort of institutional stamp of approval on Joe Biden to say that he couldn’t have done these things. Many, many people who’ve passed these vetting processes could have committed these behaviors. I just don’t trust that everything that somebody may have in their past when it comes to sexual violence or sexual misconduct is so perfectly documented that it’s available. It’s just not true.
JS: And also the list of people that would have to be lying about what Reade told them and when she told them is growing almost by the day. I mean, just the other day the Associated Press identified two additional sources that are going to remain nameless, who say that Reade told them elements of this assault story. You have her neighbor, she was on Democracy Now!.
Lynda LaCasse: He put her up against a wall, and he put his hand up her skirt, and he put his fingers inside her. And she was very distraught, and she was very upset, and she was crying.
JS: That woman actually is a self-identified supporter of Joe Biden, who says she’s going to vote for Biden. You had the Larry King Live tape that recently emerged from 1993, featuring a woman calling in from the very city that Tara Reade and her mother were living in.
Larry King Live caller: 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.
Larry King: So she had a story to tell, but out of respect for the person she worked for, she didn’t tell it.
Larry King Live caller: That’s true.
JS: Tara Reade says that that is definitely her mother talking about her situation with Joe Biden at the time. And then you have the fact that Joe Biden is a documented notorious liar himself. He has a long, documented history of lying. He had to withdraw from a presidential race earlier in his career for plagiarism and lying.
Connie Chung: Democratic presidential candidate Joseph Biden today faces a controversy. Three weeks ago at a debate at the Iowa State Fair, he used phrases identical to those delivered by British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock.
JS: In this campaign, he has lied repeatedly about his involvement in the civil rights movement. We have a proven history of pathological lying on the part of a man who is denying that he assaulted this woman.
MGG: Biden’s track record of lying, also, you can hold that completely separate from Tara Reade, right? You can still not know what to make of Tara Reade’s allegations, you can still be unsure and also not be, you know, living in some alternative universe where Biden has always told the truth. It is entirely understandable, not just among the press but among voters, to not know what to make of Tara Reade’s allegations. However, she has at least six people that we know of, some of them named on the record, I think the majority named and on the record, who confirm all or parts of her account.
There is this sort of sense of, the more contemporaneous accounts that you can point to, the more people that you told about things at the time, that this is sort of one of the standards for developing credibility. And I’m not suggesting that there’s, like, a perfect number of corroborating statements that you have to have before you can come forward as a survivor or victim and be believed. But I think Tara has met whatever that standard would be at this point and deserves to be taken seriously up against Biden’s own track record of not always telling the truth.
JS: You know, many people seem to be of the belief that this is the most consequential election of our lifetime. And I agree, Trump is a remarkably dangerous person to have in control of the various powers that come with the American presidency, and he’s a complete dangerous authoritarian. How do you talk to people whose belief is, “I don’t know if Joe Biden assaulted her or not, I kind of don’t even want to know. Because what if Trump remains president for four years?” And like, “What is the alternative right now?” You know, I think a lot of people who are not malicious actors within the Democratic Party establishment are so overwhelmed, don’t know what to believe, and just see this as, “Oh my god, it’s gonna keep Trump in power.”
MGG: All I can say is, just be honest with yourself if that’s what your position is — that you would rather not be bothered with the complexity of dealing with an allegation of sexual violence against a powerful person who, like many powerful people, has denied it and has the people around him to protect him from that allegation. If you don’t want to deal with that, you are not alone. And if you are turning away from a victim or survivor, when you yourself might profess to support women and believe women, be honest about what you’re doing.
I think that’s really what’s corrosive about this moment, is this idea that you can try to shred Tara Reade’s credibility, and stick up for Joe Biden, and still say that you have any kind of commitment to ending sexual violence, that you have any kind of commitment to women’s rights. I don’t think you get to have it both ways. I’m not saying you have to believe Tara Reade to have that kind of commitment, and to be living your values, if your values are to support women and believe women, but I don’t think that you get to pretend that that’s not what you’re doing.
JS: What does it say to you that our choices in this election, in terms of the way that the two-party system functions, are between a man with two dozen allegations of varying degrees of seriousness, including rape — Donald Trump, who openly is attacking the women who have made allegations against him — and then Joe Biden, who also has allegations that range from unwanted touching, kissing, hair sniffing, rubbing, to in the case of Reade, rape — that this is the Democratic Party’s offering in the era of Trump, and that on the ballot it’s ultimately going to be a choice between Trump and Biden?
MGG: What else can it say, but sexual violence, gender-based violence, sexual harassment is depressingly common in our culture? What else can you take away from that? You know, putting the presidency aside for a second and the ramifications of who the Democrats have put up, the fact that you could have two major candidates that we know this about speaks to, I think, how absolutely common this is for people. I don’t know that that’s new. It might be new that we know, right?
And it’s certainly disconcerting that these allegations are out there in public, very credible allegations are out there in public, some of this behavior is out there in public, right? Trump is on tape talking about these kinds of things. And yet, it doesn’t seem to ding their reputation. And yet, it doesn’t seem to dim their prospects for becoming the president of the United States. And it’s a mindfuck. I want to appreciate how that feels and how uncomfortable that is. I think it’s just, like, ripping something back about our culture and our politics and revealing it to us. I don’t think it’s necessarily new.
JS: Melissa, I want to thank you very much for all of your excellent work, and I hope people pick up your book, and thank you so much for being with us on Intercepted.
MGG: Thanks, Jeremy.
JS: Melissa Gira Grant is a staff writer at The New Republic. She’s reported on gender, sexuality, politics, and justice for more than a decade. She’s also the author of “Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work.” You can find her on Twitter at @melissagira.
Lucy Flores on Speaking Out Against Biden’s Conduct, His Non-Apology, and Choosing Between Him and Trump in November
JS: Before Joe Biden ever even entered the 2020 presidential race, he was embroiled in a national conversation around his, “affectionate and physical style of politics.” As we already discussed, eight women have come forward with stories about Biden’s inappropriate touching of their bodies. The first, in late March of last year, was former Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores. She published her story in The Cut, and it went viral, compelling more women to come forward.
She wrote about her deeply uncomfortable encounter with Biden as she campaigned for lieutenant governor of Nevada in 2014. Biden was at the time the sitting vice president of the United States. In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Flores said that for her, Biden’s conduct that day was disqualifying.
Jake Tapper: Vice President Biden is widely expected to announce a run for president in the coming weeks. You say that that is why you decided to speak out now. Do you think that this is disqualifying for him?
Lucy Flores: For me, it’s disqualifying. I think it’s up to everybody else to make that decision.
JS: Biden went on the defensive as more women started sharing similar stories that week. Non-apology qualifications and statements were issued from the Biden camp. Overall, Joe Biden seemed to either be completely ignoring the pain that the women were saying he had caused them, or wanting to shift the focus to how this is just how he is, and he’s sorry that they were offended. In a video message posted to his Twitter account, Biden said this.
JB: I worked my whole life to empower women. I’ve worked my whole life to prevent abuse. I’ve written a — and, and, so, the idea that I can’t adjust to the fact that personal space is important, more important than it’s ever been, is just not thinkable. I will, I will.
JS: A month after Flores’s story became public and seven more women had come forward, she fired back at Joe Biden in a New York Times op-ed that focused on the power of apology and why she believed Biden needed to atone for his actions. The essay was titled, “Joe Biden and the Apologies That Weren’t.” In that piece, Flores wrote, quote, “Most people acknowledge that men don’t usually kiss, smell, rub noses with, place their hands on the thighs of, or touch foreheads with random women they don’t know. Yet some men do, especially powerful men, who are protected by privilege and a crew of self-interested enablers who don’t want to lose their access to power by calling out the obvious.”
Flores was one of three Latinas in 2010 to ever be elected to the state legislature in Nevada. After leaving elected office, she has gone on to launch a digital media brand called Luz Collective. She continues to be an advocate for women’s rights, immigration reform, and criminal justice reform. And Lucy Flores joins me now.
Lucy, thank you very much for being with us on Intercepted.
LF: Thank you for having me.
JS: How was it that you came to meet Joe Biden?
LF: I had actually met Joe Biden several times before the inappropriate interaction that we ended up having during my lieutenant governor race. We met various times on the campaign trail. I had already been elected, I was elected in 2010. Nationally, I was a very active surrogate for Obama. And so I was in many rooms together with him and had actually met him one-on-one. And I had never experienced anything abnormal. He was always very friendly. I actually think that that’s a big reason why I was so shocked when he did interact with me in such an inappropriate way so many years later.
JS: Talk about what happened that day when Biden came to your campaign event.
LF: Well, it was a really busy campaign day just like any other. I was running statewide at that point, so it was just exhausting. You’re running up and down a very large state. I remember very clearly that that morning, I was in northern Nevada and had to fly down to Las Vegas, I decided not to wash my hair because we were running behind, not ultimately thinking that later on, the vice president of the United States was going to be sticking his face in it.
And we were just going about, as usual, just the chaos of a campaign. And we all met up in a holding room — again, something completely normal, very friendly, took pictures. And it wasn’t until we were lined up, getting ready to go onstage behind the curtains, there were several hundred people waiting for us to give our speeches, when Joe Biden unexpectedly, from behind, puts his hands on my shoulders.
At that point, I’m thinking, “OK, weird, but all right.” You know, your mind just kind of starts racing at that point. And then I feel him come up close behind me, and that’s when he leans in and he lingers around my head. I hear him kind of inhale. And then he proceeds to plant this low kiss on the top of my head. And of course, as I mentioned, I was mortified, because one: I just didn’t understand what was happening. Two: I’m thinking, oh my god, my hair probably smells disgusting. And three: like, what is this man doing? I just could not comprehend what was happening, particularly because it was the vice president of the United States and you just don’t know what to say. And so you don’t say anything.
I didn’t move, I literally just kind of waited for — it felt like eternity — for my name to be called and just kind of wanted to — that was my only out at that point. And then you do what I often say women do. We just go about our business, and we do what we’ve got to do. I did mention it to my staff immediately after, because again, I was just so shocked. But at the same time, after you tell people, a few people, trusted people, there is no solution after that, you know? Who do you tell? Who do you complain to? Who do you say, “By the way, someone really needs to tell the vice president to keep his hands to himself, and to stop making women feel uncomfortable?” And so, you just — you go on.
JS: Did you talk to the White House at all about this or the Obama administration?
LF: Oh god, no. No, absolutely not. Are you kidding me? Like, one: you’re an elected official. You are trained, you know, you are very much encouraged to be a good party soldier. You do not complain. You keep your mouth shut, and you do the business of the party. You would be labeled a troublemaker, people would probably not believe you. There’s so many reasons why even if you felt like you wanted to say something to somebody — which at that point, who do you tell — the negatives associated with that are just too many.
JS: Did you tell that story publicly at any point before 2019?
LF: I had told just a handful of people. My staff — there was a couple of staff that knew and some very trusted friends who were also campaign supporters, I think like two. Over the years, I had probably told maybe just one or two more people, but for the most part, you really do keep these things to yourself. It wasn’t until, of course, Joe Biden was considering running for president that there began to be much more attention paid to his entire record. And over the years, I had also noticed that there was all these pictures, and stories, and you know, Jon Stewart did a segment on creepy Uncle Joe.
And to know what those women were experiencing and to see it treated like a joke — like it was just Uncle Joe being Joe, or you know, “that’s just him” — was just completely and totally inappropriate to me. And I felt that it needed to be called out with the seriousness that it deserved.
JS: Walk us through your emotional and thought process leading up to going public with your experience with Joe Biden.
LF: Well, at that point, I had started to tell just a couple of individuals. I would see people, friends, colleagues that I knew that were starting to post about potentially supporting him. And because they were close friends, I would reach out personally and I would say, “Hey, I just want you to know that this actually happened to me with him.”
And do we not care about the years of demonstrated evidence of him behaving inappropriately? Is that not a party value anymore? And I just felt like I wanted to get it off my chest, like I just wanted people to know. And at the same time, I knew that I couldn’t keep telling that story to individuals over, and over, and over again, and that ultimately I had to make the decision — do I speak publicly, or forever hold your peace?
And I felt like that was the decision, that if I did not speak at that moment, that there was not going to be another time for it. So I decided to just clear my conscience, and get it off my chest, and speak publicly about it, and hopefully, have folks treat that behavior seriously. And people did for a little bit, until, of course, his defenders came out and started to mischaracterize what I had said, question my motives. And then Joe Biden himself took it with a modicum of seriousness and decided he was going to start making fun about it the entire campaign trail.
JS: What do you mean making fun about it?
LF: It was only about, I think, a week or two afterwards that he started making jokes. He was cracking jokes during his appearances about how he had asked for permission, and he would joke, and you know, when he would shake someone’s hand or give someone a side hug, that he had gotten consent, and just overall treating it like it was a joke.
JB: I just want you to know, I had permission to hug Lonnie. I — we — we had permission.
By the way, he gave me permission to touch him.
JS: Less than a week after your story about Joe Biden went public, Biden’s people uploaded a video on Twitter addressing his behavior, and at that point, more women had come forward with similar stories of their interactions with Joe Biden. And his account tweeted a caption to the video that read, quote, “Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I’ve heard what these women are saying. Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That’s my responsibility and I will meet it.”
JB: But I’ll always believe governing, quite frankly, life, for that matter, is about connecting, about connecting with people. That won’t change. But I will be more mindful and respectful about people’s personal space. And that’s a good thing. That’s a good thing.
JS: What was your immediate reaction to that video message from Biden when it was published?
LF: My immediate reaction was that, one: he did not apologize or admit to and recognize that he caused harm. To be very clear, this wasn’t a friendly hug, as many, many people tried to — and I think some successfully have — changed the narrative into that Biden is just a hugger, or this was just some friendly hug, or some socially acceptable touching, which we all do when we’re in pictures, etc. That was not this. And to blame culture or to blame social norms I think was also a copout. This behavior has always been inappropriate. The only thing that has changed now is that women are feeling empowered to actually say something about it.
JS: Did Joe Biden ever reach out to you directly and apologize to you?
LF: No, nor do I expect him to, and I don’t think anybody else should, either. It took him 20 or 30 years to reach out to Anita Hill, and even then, he didn’t apologize, according to Anita Hill. Joe Biden does not do things unless he is absolutely pressured into doing the right thing. And he has shown that and demonstrated that time and time again.
JS: You know, I also want to note that two days after Biden’s people released that video responding to your story and a mounting number of stories of other women who described similar interactions with him, Biden was asked further about his behavior toward women that made them uncomfortable. And he told reporters, quote —
JB: I’m sorry I didn’t understand more. I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done. I’ve never been disrespectful intentionally to a man or a woman. You know, it’s — that’s not the reputation I had since I was in high school, for god’s sake.
JS: Your response to Biden saying at the time, “I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done.”
LF: It’s just such a show of arrogance, and again, it’s his M.O. This is what he’s known for. He is not known for voluntarily or willingly acknowledging that he has made mistakes in the past, whether it’s around his position on the Hyde Amendment, whether it was around how he mishandled the Clarence Thomas hearings, school busing and segregationist policies — I mean, the list is pretty long. And I think what’s really important here is that ultimately, it is Joe Biden who is running for president and not anyone else. And if he loses in November because he has chosen not to address the breadth of issues pending before him, including these, this is on Joe Biden. This is on no one else for speaking their truths and for demanding more of our leaders.
JS: What is it like for you as you watch the commentary from many, many Democrats, including powerful Democrats who are supporting Joe Biden? On the one hand, they are calling Tara Reade a liar and saying that they believe Joe Biden —
NP: The fact that Joe Biden is Joe Biden — there’s been statements from his campaign, or not his campaign, but his former employees who ran his offices and the rest, that there was never any record of this — there was never any record, and that nobody ever came forward or nobody came forward to say something about it apart from the principal involved. I am so proud. The happiest day for me this week was to support Joe Biden for president of the United States.
JS: And on the other hand, they are addressing the allegations that you’ve made and the story that you have told about your interaction with Joe Biden and completely dismissing those, as you said earlier, sort of, “That’s Uncle Joe. He’s acknowledged this. Most of the women have accepted his explanation for his touching, and sniffing, and all of these things.”
LF: It’s simply not true, and most of them are unfortunately just playing party politics. And I get it. You know, this is a very difficult situation that all people are in, particularly survivors, and I don’t consider myself a survivor. But there are many women right now who feel like they have a choice of impossibilities, and asking them to vote between these two men — someone who is clearly, very clearly terrible for women and who is probably a rapist and a sexual harasser in Donald Trump, and all of the various ways in which he has very seriously caused harm to women and so many others, and a man who potentially is a rapist, has caused some degree of harm to women, and is the only other choice.
But ultimately, those politicians are very much doing what politicians tend to do, which is try to explain away the obvious and in the process end up causing more harm than actually hurting. I think that’s exactly what happened with the “Believe women” slogan, which should have never been a slogan. It should have been an actual conversation of what that means. And instead, too many people used it as a politically expedient way to push forward some sort of a political agenda.
JS: I think that’s something that gets lost in the discussion about Tara Reade’s story is the context of what was happening at the time. Earlier you mentioned Anita Hill, and of course, Joe Biden was the chair of the Senate committee that was dealing with the Clarence Thomas nomination and was technically responsible for vetting him. And that was the political culture on Capitol Hill when Tara Reade started working for Joe Biden.
LF: We’re not going to find a smoking gun. That has really never been the case in any of these situations where women have come forward. It has literally taken decades. And so, you know, you do have to take these factors into consideration, and hopefully people do, and they do so in a fair and nonjudgmental way when they are taking into account Tara Reade’s story and what that culture was like. That is absolutely a part of it.
But because we are still dealing with, so many years later, the way that women’s stories are perceived, the way that they’re treated, the way that they’re used politically, whether it’s embracing them when it serves your purpose or completely trying to sweep them under the rug when it doesn’t, and dismissing them when it doesn’t serve your political purpose, women are still political footballs. And our stories are not being treated with the seriousness that they deserve and the lack of judgment that should be present when we’re considering these stories.
There’s still too much conscious and unconscious bias. There’s still too much perception of what a “good victim” looks like. There’s just too much of it, and that is what I’m hoping that we can get to with this continued conversation about not just Joe Biden’s behavior, but the culture in general.
JS: When Biden did appear on Morning Joe on MSNBC when Mika Brzezinski interviewed him, the main thrust of that interview, beyond Biden’s emphatic denials, was the notion that Tara Reade had filed some sort of a complaint against Biden. And Reade herself has consistently said that complaint did not lay out the extent of her allegations against Joe Biden. And she’s indicated a sense of, if you speak out, you’re going to get labeled in a certain way. But also, Tara Reade’s story makes sense. And yet, it’s being latched on to as a, “Aha. She didn’t say that Joe Biden raped her in a hallway. She didn’t say he digitally penetrated her, therefore it must not have happened.” And I’m wondering what it’s been like for you to watch the attacks against Reade, and the way that they’re parsing every single perceived inconsistency, or “She didn’t say this at the time, so therefore it didn’t happen.”
LF: Every single thing that the commentators in general and Joe Biden defenders are doing and saying has been done against every single woman who has come out with her own personal story, including me. So I very much empathize with what she’s going through, but this is just another reason — it’s always just so fascinating to me, you know, the hypocrisies that are revealed daily, the ridiculous, asinine question, “Why didn’t you say something at the time?”
Clearly the answer is, “Because this is exactly what I didn’t want to happen to me. Everything that is happening to me right now, I wanted to not have happened to me.” And we have to just keep remembering that every single time a woman comes out with her story and is treated in this way dissuades another survivor, another person who has been disrespected, and slighted, and wronged, and all the ways in which women just have to endure every day from using their voice from speaking out.
I was a very young girl when Anita Hill was going through her treatment. I had no concept of what any of that even meant until I was much, much older, of course, and had to learn what it was about. But growing up witnessing that — why would any woman ever want to voluntarily subject themselves to that kind of treatment?
JS: Now, there was a recent poll done. Twenty-six percent of Democrats, including 40 percent of those under the age of 45, say that the party should select a different nominee. And this poll was taken after people were shown part of Joe Biden’s interview on MSNBC. So just to repeat, 26 percent of Democrats say the party should select a different nominee, 40 percent of Democrats under the age of 45.
Where do you fall on that question of if Joe Biden should be replaced by another Democrat on the ticket?
LF: I want to get Trump out of the White House as much as anybody else, more than most people. I worry in how difficult that’s going to be with having the choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. I don’t know what a process would look like to choose another nominee. I don’t even know if there is a process. The DNC clearly is working against this. The New York Times editorial board called for some sort of an independent investigation, and the DNC’s response was to call that notion “absurd.”
They’re grasping onto anything that they can to avoid any kind of a formal — deeper-dive — investigation. And so it’s very clear that the Democratic Party is going to do everything possible to avoid any semblance of the Democratic delegates wanting to potentially choose anyone else.
JS: Well, and then obviously we have Donald Trump in the White House, who based on his allegations — I mean, he appears from the stories of all of these women to be a serial sexual predator who openly brags about his ability to sexually assault women. And the notion that the response to this man, on a policy level but also on a personal level, is Joe Biden, just feels like a major slap in the face to women, that this is the offering from the Democratic Party establishment in the age of Trump.
LF: I absolutely agree with that. It does feel so deeply insulting. And that’s why I worry so much about what type of decision women are faced with. I do worry that many women are not going to feel compelled to vote at all. And four more years of Trump is just not anything that I even want to think about, yet here we are.
JS: Well, Lucy Flores, I want to thank you very much for the work — we didn’t even talk about the broader work that you do on immigration, on social justice, on civil liberties, civil rights. We’ll save that for another time. But I thank you so much for your bravery, your temerity and your willingness to speak out especially in the environment that we are operating in right now. And thanks so much for being with us on Intercepted.
LF: Well, I certainly appreciate you providing the platform. It’s an important conversation. Thanks.
JS: Lucy Flores is a social justice advocate, chief executive of Luz Collective, and a former Nevada assemblywoman.
That does it for this week’s show. You can follow us on Twitter @intercepted and Instagram @InterceptedPodcast. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our lead producer is Jack D’Isidoro. Our producer is Laura Flynn. Elise Swain is our associate producer and graphic designer. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription for this program is done by Ariel Boone. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.