Guest Editorials

Assault accusation needs independent investigation

As he prepares to claim the Democratic presidential nomination, former Vice President Joe Biden is rightly being exhorted to make a fuller and more public response to an allegation by Tara Reade, who asserts Biden sexually assaulted her when she was on his Senate staff in the 1990s. But what Biden says about the accusation — which his campaign denies — is less important than what he does. And he should agree to an independent investigation of Reade’s troubling claims.

Reade’s allegation against Biden has evolved. Last year she said Biden had touched her inappropriately and some of her responsibilities were taken away after she refused to serve drinks at an event — allegations that seem to involve sexual harassment, not sexual assault. But in a podcast interview in March, she accused Biden of pushing her against a wall, groping her and penetrating her with his fingers.

According to The New York Times, Reade said she had complained about harassment by Biden — without mentioning sexual assault — to the senator’s executive assistant and two senior aides, all of whom say they don’t remember such a complaint. But on April 27, Business Insider reported that a former neighbor said Reade had told her about the alleged assault in the mid-1990s.

Reade is encountering skepticism not only because of the way her story has changed but because she had supported Biden’s rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and once expressed admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But her allegation still needs to be taken seriously.

Reade’s accusation comes as Biden is wrapping up the Democratic nomination for president, and Republicans unsurprisingly are eager to exploit it — never mind that President Trump has been accused by more than a dozen women of sexual assault or making unwanted advances, which Trump denies.

But the fact that Trump stands accused of sexual misconduct doesn’t mean that Biden can ignore Reade’s account. Unpleasant as it must be, the former vice president must be willing to answer questions about Reade’s accusations posed by reporters or members of the public.

More important, his campaign should commission an independent investigation of Reade’s allegations by a lawyer or law firm without clear partisan leanings. Investigators should be given access to papers from his career that Biden donated to the University of Delaware, a potential source journalists haven’t been allowed to inspect. And their report should be made public. It’s not guaranteed that such an investigation will resolve the contradictions, but it could dispel suspicions important documents were being concealed.

The message of the #MeToo movement was that an accusation of sexual impropriety by a powerful man should be taken seriously — including by the subject of the complaint. Even as he protests his innocence, Biden needs to honor that principle.

This editorial first appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Friday. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.