NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - The leader of the team that vetted Joe Biden to be Barack Obama's 2008 running mate said that Tara Reade's allegations of sexual assault by Biden never surfaced during an extensive investigation.
Biden, facing the most serious incident of his 2020 presidential campaign, and his allies have begun a vigorous defence effort against Reade's allegations.
She says that in 1993, when she was staffer in his Senate office, then-senator Biden pushed her against a wall in a Capitol Hill office building, reached under her skirt and sexually assaulted her with his fingers.
Biden said on Friday that the allegations "aren't true. This never happened."
He has directed Senate officials to find and release a written complaint that Reade says she filed at the time, but Biden insists does not exist.
A team of eight to 10 lawyers, led by Bill Jeffress, spent almost two months vetting Biden to be Obama's vice president. Jeffress told Bloomberg News on Saturday (May 2) that neither Reade's name nor her allegations came up. Jeffress also said no rumours of misconduct were floating around at the time.
"The most important part of the vetting process is looking for any hint of unethical complaints, discrimination, harassment, anything that might create an issue," Jeffress said.
"Among many other things, we certainly looked for any people who might have made allegations in the past or might be making allegations at the time against Senator Biden."
DOZENS OF INTERVIEWS
Jeffress said his lawyers interviewed dozens of people and had access to any paperwork they requested from Biden's office. They also checked his record with the Senate ethics committee.
"I felt sorry for people being vetted," he said.
"Anyone we thought could have damaging information, we found them."
"We presented everything we found to Obama and his team and they selected him," Jeffress said.
"That does tell you that there was nothing serious."
Reade made her detailed allegations public for the first time in March, after Biden had sewn up the Democratic presidential nomination. She said she filed a harassment complaint with the Senate in 1993, but did not have a copy of the document.
She has called on Biden to release documents from his archives at the University of Delaware.
Biden said the papers in Delaware include no personnel files, and he wrote a letter to the secretary of the Senate on Friday, instructing her to release any documentation related to Reade's allegations.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Friday, Reade said the complaint she filed against Biden did not explicitly say he sexually harassed or assaulted her.
"I remember talking about him wanting me to serve drinks because he liked my legs and thought I was pretty and it made me uncomfortable," she told the AP.
"I know that I was too scared to write about the sexual assault."
Reade, one of a number of women who accused Biden of inappropriate touching last year, said she did not describe the sexual assault earlier because she feared retribution. She has said she supported Senator Bernie Sanders, Biden's final competitor for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Obama administration alumni have raised a vocal defence of Biden, explaining how thorough the vice-presidential selection process was and how it uncovered no inappropriate conduct.
David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Obama and now a CNN commentator, wrote in a CNN article on Friday that Obama would have never selected Biden had any credible issues been raised during vetting.
"Through that entire process, the name Tara Reade never came up," Axelrod wrote. "No formal complaint. No informal chatter. Certainly, no intimation of sexual harassment or assault from her or anyone else. The team of investigators, expert in their work, would not have missed it."
Patti Solis Doyle, who ran vice-presidential operations during the 2008 campaign, wrote on Twitter on Saturday: "When Biden was selected I served as his Chief of Staff. NO sexual assault or harassment allegation ever came up against him. It was an exhaustive vet."
Obama allies have also defended Biden's character.
Eric Holder, Obama's attorney-general and who also helped oversee the 2008 vice-president search, said the allegations need to be taken seriously, but questioned the supporters of President Donald Trump who are attacking Biden on the issue while ignoring the many sexual misconduct allegations against the president.
"I've known Joe Biden for 20, 25 years," Holder said in an interview with Bill Maher on HBO on Friday night.
"What has been described is inconsistent with the person who I've come to know and who I've worked with."