What you don’t know

On 29 April, USA Today published an op-ed in which former prosecutor Michael J Stern laid out several arguments against taking at face value Alexandra Tara Reade’s claim that Joseph R. Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993. All of Mr Stern’s arguments are equally brilliant.

Consider point #7, “Compliments for Biden,” in which he declares that he finds it “bizarre” that Reade said positive things about Biden at various points in the years after the alleged assault. That leads to point #8, “Rejecting Biden, Embracing Sanders,” in which he denounces her for having made an “unbridled attack on Biden,” showing bias against him. So by saying positive things about Biden, Reade discredited her claim to have been abused by him; by saying negative things about Biden, she discredited her claim to have been abused by him. Stern is charitable enough to refrain from mentioning the many times over the years when she wasn’t talking about Biden at all, and explaining how they discredit her claim to have been abused by him.

The fact that, after Senator Elizabeth Warren withdrew from the presidential race, Reade supported Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign comes up again in point #11, “Suspect timing.” Reade timed the disclosure of her allegations to the maximum benefit of the Sanders campaign. By releasing her first public statement of her gravest charges against Biden on 25 March, three weeks after Super Tuesday and at the height of the public confusion surrounding Coronavirus, Reade ensured that they would not receive widespread attention until Sanders had withdrawn from the race and was trying to craft an endorsement of Biden that would deliver as many of his supporters as possible to the former vice president. Clearly, this was a gift to the Vermont senator.

Point #5, “Memory lapse,” is just as telling. After a mere 27 years, Reade claims to be unable to recall the precise date, time, and location within the corridors of the Senate office buildings where the alleged assault occurred. Stern derides this as “amnesia about specifics.” Surely, a shocking incident like that, coming entirely out of the blue, with no connection to any frame of reference she had established concerning Biden and her place on his staff and turning her world upside down in a matter of seconds, is the sort of thing that human minds process clearly and calmly. How could she not have the full details at her command?

Under point #2, Stern gives us “Implausible explanation for changing story.” This is just as much to his credit as are the other points. Reade claims that, when she told the Union newspaper of Nevada County, California in April of 2019 that Biden’s sexual misconduct towards her had extended to unwanted shoulder rubs and left out the part about his hand in her genitalia, she was intimidated by the reporter’s demeanor. Stern finds it “hard to believe” that a reporter for the Nevada County Union would be reluctant to run with a scoop in the form of a lone woman accusing the Democratic presidential front-runner of sexually assaulting her. As is well-known, all newspapers operate exactly like the ones in movies from the 1940s, and when reporters run into the press room with stories like that the editors shout “Hold the presses!” and all the staff toss their fedoras in the air so that the big cards labeled “Press” fall out of the hatbands.

Point #6, “The lie about losing her job,” is where Stern shows what a fine legal mind he has.  Reade at one point said she was fired, but at another point said that she quit because unreasonable demands were placed on her. Since the unreasonable demands in question were insistence that she act as a cocktail waitress at a party that would likely be attended by Biden’s friends Edward M Kennedy and Christopher Dodd, at a time when every staffer on Capitol Hill was aware of a story that Dodd and Kennedy had a few years earlier sexually assaulted a woman acting as a cocktail waitress might somehow be relevant to this issue if there were such a legal concept as “constructive dismissal,” covering cases where an employee is forced to quit.  But hey, there must not be any such concept! Stern is a lawyer of some kind, after all, and he’s obviously never heard of it.

Point #3, “People who contradict Reade’s claim,” is also very compelling. Stern lists three people who emphatically deny, not exactly Reade’s claim to have been sexually assaulted by Biden, but her claim that she filed a complaint about such an assault at the time. These three people are all very distinguished and credible. In those days, they all held top posts in the office of Delaware’s senior US senator. One of them was himself later appointed to the US Senate to succeed to succeed that senator, and all of them are likely to be among the most influential figures in Washington if the Democratic nominee is elected president this year. Also, they all know Joe Biden well, and say that he is the kindest warmest bravest most wonderful human being they’ve ever met, and that it is simply impossible for him to have done something like this. By golly, if that isn’t convincing evidence that ol’ Joe is a good egg, I don’t know what is!

If any doubt did remain about ol’ Joe’s fundamental goodness and decency, Stern’s point #14, “Lack of other sexual assault allegations,” should dispel it. Stern writes, “It is possible that, in his 77 years, Biden committed one sexual assault and it was against Reade. But in my experience, men who commit a sexual assault are accused more than once.” No doubt Stern’s experience as a prosecutor in Detroit and Los Angeles included many suspects who had been US senators since the age of 30 and whose alleged victims hoped to make careers in politics and government, so that’s a great point.

Point #4, “Missing formal complaint,” is so important, so important. Reade did not save a copy of the formal complaint she claims to have filed in 1993. It’s not as if Biden’s office would have saved a copy of such a complaint, or as if those papers are archived somewhere. Nope, the only way such a complaint will ever become public is if Reade herself has kept a copy of it.

Why would Reade omit such an important item from her records, knowing that Senate offices don’t have filing cabinets? Stern suggests an answer to that question in his point #10, obliquely titled “Believe all women?” He tells us that “Reade’s wild shifts in political ideology and her sexual infatuation with a brutal dictator of a foreign adversary raise questions about her emotional stability.” Yes indeed, we must always remember that women who have been sexually assaulted by powerful men and who have seen their hopes and dreams fall apart in consequence of such assaults are always models of emotional stability. Only someone who has not suffered such abuse would be so scatterbrained as to neglect to save a copy of the formal complaint she submitted concerning it.

Stern’s point #9 raises questions about whether Reade can really be considered educated at all. Under the heading “Love of Russia and Putin,” he cites an article in which Reade both says that she thinks Vladimir Putin is handsome, and that she is unconvinced by claims that Russian intelligence services interfered in the 2016 US presidential election to an extent that Russia should be considered hostile to the USA. As is well-known, Putin is not at all handsome, and all persons of true learning are amateur counter-espionage enthusiasts who attribute the election of Donald Trump to the machinations of the Kremlin. That Reade does not grasp these points raises the question of whether she could be trusted to correctly identify her assailant if she were in fact attacked. How can she be sure a Russian bot posting memes on Facebook didn’t attack her?

Point #12, “The Larry King call, and point #13, “Statements to others,” deal with secondhand reports of remarks Reade has made to various people at various times concerning her experiences with. The “Larry King call” was a call Reade’s mother made to the Larry King Show on CNN in 1993. Stern transcribes the whole thing:

I’m wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington? My daughter has just left there after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.

Stern says:

Given that the call was anonymous, Reade’s mother should have felt comfortable relaying the worst version of events. When trying to obtain someone’s assistance, people typically do not downplay the seriousness of an incident. They exaggerate it. That Reade’s mother said nothing about her daughter being sexually assaulted would lead many reasonable people to conclude that sexual assault was not the problem that prompted the call to King.

What a well-taken point! Reade’s mother had several seconds to lay out her case to King and his two guests before they hustled her off the phone to make a quick response and cut to commercial, more than enough time to present all the details in a way that would both preserve her daughter’s dignity and convey the seriousness of the matter. Very suspicious!

The “Statements to others” that Stern considers under point #13 include three people who said, when all she was telling the press was that Biden had touched her neck and shoulders inappropriately, that she had told them that in the 90s, and who, when she began to say that he had also grabbed her genitalia, then said that she had also told them about that part back in those days. Stern also mentions that she had given the press an “apparently exhaustive” list of people she had told about the incident in the 90s, and that those three people were not on that “apparently exhaustive” list. Reade doesn’t seem to have said that the list was exhaustive, but it was “apparently” so to the eagle eyes of Mr Ex-Prosecutor. Can’t fool him!

Under point #15, “What remains,” Stern remarks that no video recordings were made and that no other circumstantial evidence of the alleged incident survives, and there are no witnesses aside from Reade and Biden. Some prosecutors would say that, because all we have are two people, one of whom says X while the other says not-X, the legal system cannot come to any conclusion about what did or did not happen. Since many millions of people are at this moment weighing the question of whether to vote for Biden to be president of the United States, the lack of a conclusion to this question might be deeply troubling. Indeed, we could imagine criminal lawyers, whether prosecutors or defense counsel, coming up against the limits of what their profession allows then to classify as knowledge and feeling great unease.

No such anxieties cloud the mind of our gallant Mr Stern, however. He has produced his fifteen arguments, each as powerful as the next, to assure himself and all potential Biden voters that the allegations Ms Reade has brought are of little moment, and a vote for the presumptive Democratic nominee can be cast with the same placid conscience that prosecutors can bring to their work.

And so we end with Mr Stern’s first point: “Delayed reporting… twice.”   Who could possibly be reluctant to go to the authorities with a account of sexual assault, knowing that the professional fraternity that decides which cases will be brought is represented by so wise and reasonable a man as Mr Stern? Surely, no one can say that ours is a rape culture with men like him in charge.

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