Joe Biden has denied he sexually assaulted a former Senate staffer, saying the allegations “aren’t true”, in his first public comments about the claims.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has faced mounting questions about his conduct after Tara Reade, a woman who worked in his US Senate office almost three decades ago, accused him of assaulting her in 1993.
“This never happened,” the former vice-president, who is challenging Donald Trump for the presidency, said in a statement on Friday morning.
“While the details of these allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault are complicated, two things are not complicated,” Mr Biden said.
“One is that women deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and when they step forward they should be heard, not silenced. The second is that their stories should be subject to appropriate inquiry and scrutiny.”
Ms Reade has said she filed a complaint in 1993 over Mr Biden’s conduct, but Mr Biden said on Friday that there is no record of a complaint in his personal Senate papers, which he donated to the University of Delaware.
Mr Biden said he would ask Senate officials to probe the National Archives for any record of a complaint from Ms Reade in his personnel files.
“To the best of my knowledge, there have been no complaints made against me in terms of my Senate career, in terms of my office,” Mr Biden told MSNBC. “This is an open book. There is nothing for me to hide. Nothing at all.”
Democrats have been accused of applying a different standard to Mr Biden than they did to Brett Kavanaugh, the US Supreme Court justice whose 2018 confirmation hearings centred on Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that he sexually assaulted her in high school. He denied the claims and was later confirmed by a narrow vote in the Senate.
When asked about the two cases on MSNBC, Mr Biden said: “Look, from the very beginning, I have said believing women means taking the woman’s claims seriously when she steps forward and then look into it. That is true in this case as well.”
“Women have a right to be heard and the press should rigorously investigate claims they make. I will always uphold that principle but in the end, in every case, the truth is what matters. In this case, the truth is, the claims are false.
“I am not going to question her motives, I am not going to get into that at all,” Mr Biden added. “I don’t know why she’s saying this. I don’t know why after 27 years, all of a sudden this gets raised. I don’t understand it.”
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, staunchly defended Mr Biden when asked about Ms Reade’s allegations on Thursday, calling the former vice-president a “person of great integrity, of great concern for the American people”.
“I have complete respect for the whole Me Too Movement. I have four daughters, one son, and there is a lot of excitement around the idea that women will be heard and be listened to,” Mrs Pelosi said. “There is also due process.”
Mr Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault by more than 20 women, told reporters at the White House on Thursday that he did not know “anything” about Ms Reade’s allegations but said Mr Biden “should respond”.
“It could be false accusations, I know all about false accusations, I have been falsely charged numerous times,” the president said, adding that what happened to Mr Kavanaugh was an “absolute disgrace”.
Ms Reade is the only known former staffer to make sexual assault allegations against Mr Biden. However, last year he faced questions about his behaviour after multiple women, including Ms Reade, said he had made them feel uncomfortable.
“In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately,” Mr Biden said in a statement last March. “If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.”