WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Friday asked the Senate to find any documents tied to an allegation he sexually assaulted a former aide in 1993, after personally denying the accusation publicly for the first time.
"No, it is not true. I'm saying unequivocally it never, never happened," Biden told MSNBC in an interview when asked about the accusation, which his campaign had also previously denied.
A California woman named Tara Reade, who worked as a staff assistant in Biden's Senate office from December 1992 to August 1993, had accused Biden in media interviews of pinning her against a wall in 1993, reaching under her skirt and pushing his fingers inside her.
Biden, 77, who will be the Democratic nominee to face Republican President Donald Trump, 73, in the Nov. 3 U.S. election, had faced growing pressure from within and outside his party to directly address the accusation.
"This is an open book. There's nothing for me to hide," Biden said in the interview, conducted from his home in Delaware where he is self-isolating during the coronavirus outbreak.
In a letter, Biden asked the Secretary of the Senate, Julie Adams, to locate and make public records containing any complaint or other documents relating to Reade's allegation, if they exist, according to a copy of the document seen by Reuters.
During the interview Biden said personal papers from his Senate years, which were donated to the University of Delaware and have yet to be made available to the public, do not contain any personnel files.
He said he was unaware of any complaint against him by Reade, and he had never asked anyone to sign a non-disclosure agreement. He said he would not question Reade's motive and did not know why she had made the complaint.
In the past Biden has suggested that women making accusations of sexual assault should be given the benefit of the doubt, and on Friday he said he was not being hypocritical by rejecting Reade's charges.
"Women have a right to be heard and the press should rigorously investigate claims they make. I'll always uphold that principle," he said. "But in the end, in every case, the truth is what matters."
Reuters has not been able to independently confirm Reade's accusation and also was unable to reach Reade or a representative for her comment.
"We appreciate Vice President Biden finally addressing Tara Reade's allegations," said Heather Drevna, the vice president of communications at the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, an anti-sexual violence organization. "These allegations deserve a rigorous investigation."
Trump has been accused in recent years by more than a dozen women of making unwanted sexual advances. In all instances, they claimed the purported misconduct occurred years before he entered politics. Trump has denied the accusations, accusing rival Democrats and the media of a smear campaign.
In an interview on Friday with conservative radio host Dan Bongino, Trump said if the accusations were false, Biden should deny them.
"Just go out and fight it, it's one of those things," Trump said he would advise Biden. "I've been a total victim of this nonsense, false accusations."
Trump's re-election campaign accused Biden of exercising a double standard. "In a dramatic shift, Biden now says ‘believe women’ doesn’t actually mean 'believe women,'" said campaign spokeswoman Erin Perrine.
"We do not know what, if anything, was done to Tara Reade, but there cannot be one set of rules for Joe Biden and another set for everyone else."
Several news outlets that have published Reade's account, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, have interviewed a friend who said Reade told her about the alleged assault at the time. Another friend told the Times that Reade told her in 2008 about a previous traumatic incident involving Biden. Reade's brother also confirmed parts of Reade's account to The Intercept and the Post.
On Monday, the Business Insider news website published an interview with a former neighbor who said Reade told her in the mid-1990s that Biden had put his fingers inside her.
Reade, 56, told media interviewers she complained at the time about sexual harassment, though not sexual assault, to three of Biden's Senate aides. The Biden campaign released a statement from one, Marianne Baker, who said she never received any report of inappropriate behavior in nearly 20 years of working for Biden.
The Post and Times interviewed the other two aides, both of whom told the newspapers they had no recollection of Reade's complaint.
Reade was one of eight women who last year came forward to say Biden had hugged, kissed or touched them in ways that made them uncomfortable, though none accused him of sexual assault. Reade publicly accused him of the assault on a podcast in March.
Some prominent Democratic women had stepped forward to defend Biden, who was President Barack Obama's vice president, and others had asked him to address the accusation.
"It can't appear that she's being ignored just because it's an inconvenient truth for certain people in the Democratic Party," said Nina Turner, who was national campaign co-chair for the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, who dropped out of the Democratic race and endorsed Biden.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York and John Whitesides in Washington; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Steve Holland and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Howard Goller and Daniel Wallis)