A former Senate staffer named Tara Reade has accused Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her in 1993, an accusation which gained further credibility on Monday when Business Insider reported that one of Reade’s former neighbors recalls Reade having told her about the alleged incident in detail in the mid-’90s.
Biden’s defense, so far, has involved keeping his distance from the story. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has said, through a spokeswoman, that he did not assault Reade, but he has yet to address the accusation himself in public. His campaign has meanwhile signaled its confidence in Biden’s good reputation to an extent that reads as arrogance.
On Tuesday, for example, the candidate made an online appearance with Hillary Clinton, who was reportedly involved in some of Bill Clinton’s efforts to discredit women who said (truthfully, in at least some cases) that they’d had extramarital affairs with him or suffered unwelcome advances. The subject became an issue during her presidential race—and while that was to some extent because it was raised in bad faith by Donald Trump, she is, regardless, not widely seen as a credible character witness for men accused of misbehavior. On Thursday, the Biden campaign announced that its vice presidential selection committee will include former Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, a longtime friend and political ally of Biden’s whose own history on the subject of sexual assault is, at the least, unsavory.
Most directly, it’s public record that a D.C. waitress named Carla Gaviglio accused Dodd and the late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy of sexually assaulting her at the restaurant where she worked in 1985. According to Gaviglio, Kennedy and Dodd were both drunk in a private room when Kennedy threw her into a seated Dodd’s lap and rubbed his genitals against her until other staffers intervened.
It’s not the only account in which Dodd served as Kennedy’s lecherous wingman: The late actress Carrie Fisher, in a memoir, wrote that she went on a group date in 1985 with Dodd during which Kennedy asked her leeringly if she would be “having sex with Chris” and/or would “have sex with Chris in a hot tub,” behavior which she says Dodd observed with “an unusual grin hanging on his very flushed face.” In 1990, a writer at the D.C. paper Roll Call described Kennedy and Dodd to GQ magazine as “two guys in a fraternity who have been loosed upon the world.”
Dodd, moreover, was a leading Democratic recipient of donations by Harvey Weinstein, whom he referred to as his “good friend” in a 2011 New York Times interview. After he left the Senate in 2011, Dodd became the chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America. “I’ve known Harvey for 25, 30 years, and we’ve been friends,” Dodd told the Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “He was very helpful to me as a candidate for Congress and as a senator over the years.” Informal accounts of Weinstein’s frequent sexual misconduct were widely, widely circulated well before they were ultimately made public in New York Times and New Yorker exposés, and he is now in prison after having been convicted of third-degree rape and first-degree commission of a criminal sexual act (forced oral sex).
Defenses of Biden that have been made by his campaign and by Democratic surrogates have emphasized not just that he denies Reade’s allegations but that he embodies the decency of a person who could never be associated with such acts. That message is undermined by his decision to remind the public of his long association with Dodd, who at best was passively adjacent to, and at worst complicit in, the behavior of two notorious, powerful men during the era in which Biden—then, himself, one of the most prominent politicians in the country—is accused of assaulting Reade.
For more on the allegation against Biden, listen to this week’s Political Gabfest.