Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Friday denied an allegation of sexual assault by a former Senate aide, Tara Reade, breaking a monthlong silence that had frustrated some Democratic activists as his presidential campaign grapples with issues of accountability and gender that are vitally important to many members of his party.
Sounding emphatic and at times agitated in an interview on MSNBC, Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, tried to address concerns about Ms. Reade’s claim by saying that she had a right to be heard while also insisting that he had not assaulted her. “No, it is not true,” Mr. Biden said. “I’m saying unequivocally it never, never happened.”
Mr. Biden also called on the National Archives to release any existing complaint related to the allegation, even as he continued to oppose requests to release his Senate papers, which, he said, do not contain personnel records.
The weeks of indecision about how to respond publicly to Ms. Reade highlighted, in part, the former vice president’s great reliance on female voters as a political base that he cannot afford to alienate, and the determination of Democrats to champion a zero-tolerance standard for abuse of women. Mr. Biden, in arguing that victims should be heard while trying to defend himself, also further sharpened the already stark distinctions between the pressures facing him and the president on matters of gender and sex.
Mr. Trump has been accused of more than a dozen allegations of sexual harassment, assault and rape, and in the 2016 election confronted the release of a recording in which he was heard in his own voice boasting about groping women. Yet Mr. Trump has rarely agonized about how to address even allegations of violent physical misconduct: He has typically dismissed them out of hand, often attacking his accusers and usually receiving the vocal support of many members of his own party and the conservative media.
Indeed, after his election Mr. Trump effectively made disbelief of the extensive claims against him a political litmus test for Republicans, holding personal grudges and sometimes actively punishing those who spoke out against him in 2016.
Mr. Biden, meanwhile, has faced a single allegation of assault — Ms. Reade’s — that has flummoxed the former vice president and his campaign, unnerved Democrats about his electoral prospects and frustrated women’s groups that have long seen Mr. Biden as an ally and have more recently found themselves struggling to address the claim against him.
Under repeated questioning from Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Mr. Biden insisted that those papers would not contain information relevant to the allegation, saying that employment records are kept at the National Archives. Mr. Biden was also emphatic that such a search of the National Archives would yield no complaint.
“I’m confident there’s nothing,” he said. “I’m not worried about it at all. If there is a complaint, that’s where it would be, that’s where it would filed. And if it’s there, put it out. But I’ve never seen it. No one has that I’m aware of.”
A Biden aide said the campaign had not done a search of the National Archives records.
Ms. Reade said that she filed a complaint with a congressional personnel office detailing sexual harassment by Mr. Biden when she worked in his office. She does not have a copy, she says, and such paperwork has not been located. The complaint, she says, does not mention the assault. The Times reviewed an official copy of her employment history from the Senate that she provided showing she was hired in December 1992 and paid by Mr. Biden’s office until August 1993.
Last year, Ms. Reade and seven other women came forward to accuse Mr. Biden of kissing, hugging or touching them in ways that made them feel uncomfortable. She did not publicly mention the assault at the time and only came forward with the allegation in late March. Several friends of Ms. Reade have said she told them about a traumatic sexual incident involving Mr. Biden. Nearly two dozen people who worked with Mr. Biden during the early 1990s, including many who worked with Ms. Reade, told The Times they had no recollection of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden — with Ms. Reade or any other woman.
In 2017, Ms. Reade retweeted praise for Mr. Biden and his work combating sexual assault. In more recent months, her Twitter feed has featured support for Senator Bernie Sanders, whom she supported in the California primary. Ms. Reade says she has no political motives and does not want to be used by either party for partisan attacks.
In one long exchange, Ms. Brzezinski repeatedly pressed Mr. Biden on why he wouldn’t allow a search for any documents related to Ms. Reade at the University of Delaware. Mr. Biden flashed signs of annoyance and frustration, pushing back against Ms. Brzezinski on whether a search of those papers would find anything mentioning Ms. Reade. He repeatedly asserted that no personnel files were housed at the university, saying “they’re not there.” He suggested that releasing the papers in a campaign setting could lead to out-of-context attacks and jeopardize private conversations with officials, but appeared resistant to a search of Ms. Reade’s name.
In his statement, Mr. Biden said that women who make allegations “should be heard, not silenced,” but their stories also warrant scrutiny. He went on to raise “the full and growing record of inconsistencies in her story, which has changed repeatedly in both small and big ways.”