We discussed yesterday how former Vice President Joe Biden issued a request to release material from the National Archives related to the allegation of sexual assault made by former Biden staff member Tara Reade. There was less than met the eye however. Biden adamantly refused to open up the records held by the University of Delaware and has steadfastly limited any searches to Reade’s complaint rather than any such allegations. Now Biden is adopting the same artificially narrow approach in his letter to the United States Senate. While CNN has been running glowing interviews about the letter, it is clearly drafted to limit the search. Once again, I fail to understand this reluctance to simply end all discussion with total transparency. Biden, in my view, has the stronger case here given the limited evidence and witnesses supporting Reade. The fact of any recollection of this allegation by various staff members is highly compelling evidence. Yet, he continues to issue strangely curtailed requests while proclaiming that he is being totally transparent. It is not clear if this is just a reflexive resistance to full disclosure, over-lawyered language, or actually an effort to conceal information.
The National Archives has already declared that the earlier waiver related to their material is irrelevant since “Any records of Senate personnel complaints from 1993 would have remained under the control of the Senate.” Notably, the coverage today largely does not mention the narrow construction of the letter to the Senate or the fact that it was sent after the Archives denied it had any such material. It was the Archives that pointed out that a request had to be sent to the Senate. Instead, CNN was running interviews today praising Biden for his transparency.
Notably, the coverage has also ignored that Biden justified the initial narrow request to the Archives by assuring the public that any such material could only be found at the National Archives. The Archives is now saying that that is not true – a fact that could have been easily confirmed by the Biden staff before his long-delayed response to the Reade allegation.
The immediate denial of the Archives that it would have such material only highlighted the steadfast refusal to open up the papers sent to the University of Delaware. It also puts pressure on the University of Delaware in being used to block access of the media and the public. This pressure will build if reports are proven accurate that Biden staffers have already has access to the material for an earlier review. I think such a review is a wise move for any presidential candidate and may be unrelated to these allegations. However, it reflects the problem in allowing the privatization of such records.
What is most striking about the United States Senate letter is that it reflects Biden’s original position that he only wants a search of the complaint, not any related material from Reade or any material related to other sexual misconduct allegations. In his interview with MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski, Biden was pushed to allow the release of any material related to the Reade controversy. However, he refused to allow a search of his papers under lock and key at the University of Delaware and has not ordered the release of any information or document on sexual misconduct allegations from other women.
Now Biden’s letter repeats his narrow position that focused on this one allegation. He asked the Senate
“I request that you take or direct whatever steps are necessary to establish the location of the records of this Office, and once they have been located, to direct a search for the alleged complaint and to make public the results of this search. I would ask that the public release include not only a complaint if one exists, but any and all other documents in the records that relate to the allegation.” (emphasis added)
In fairness, this is still more disclosure that Donald Trump has allowed in relation to multiple women accusing him of sexual misconduct or his taxes. However, if Biden wants points for transparency, he really needs to be transparent. As I have said before, the solution is obvious and simple: release any material related to any sexual misconduct or harassment allegation by anyone from any of these archives or libraries. That includes the Senate Ethics Committee, the University of Delaware, and any other archives or areas holding Biden-related papers.
CNN and other media outfits continue to run glowing accounts of these waivers with little or no discussion of how they are carefully limited in where the searches can be made and what the searches can look for.
Again, I view Biden’s position as more compelling on the current record. However, these narrowly focused, narrowly crafted waivers only magnify concerns. Rather than simply turn on the light, he continues to insist that searches are confined to where he is directing a flashlight. Biden already said on MSNBC that he did not want his papers at the University of Delaware to be opened because it would be used as “fodder” against him in the campaign. So, he wants transparency but only to the degree that he can minimize negative impacts.
I will say it again. I have argued for decades that these papers should be public documents, not private documents. There is no reason why presidents and senators should treat official documents filed in their offices as their personal property. The Presidential Records Act, for example, allows a president to not only conceal material but appoint his own loyalists to make critical decisions on whether and when material can be reviewed. Presidents can unilaterally declare matter as privileged and nonpublic to protect themselves from embarrassment and the judgment of history.
The most relevant records for reviewing Biden’s veracity and leadership are his official papers. Yet we allow Biden to control the papers and prevent their review so that they cannot be used against him in seeking the highest office in the land.