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Editor’s note: This story contains graphic descriptions of an alleged sexual assault.
Updated at 10:30 a.m. ET
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., says an accusation of sexual assault against former Vice President Joe Biden is “not clear-cut,” but that it remains of great importance to listen to survivors and allow for proper due process in such cases.
Speaking to NPR’s Morning Edition, Ocasio-Cortez said, “There have been investigative journalists that have corroborated certain aspects of her account — that is undeniable — [and] have raised questions about other aspects of her account.” She is concerned, though, that an early rush to take sides could signal hypocrisy from her party and potentially alienate victims of sexual violence.
“It certainly seems as though something has happened. I’m not sure,” she said, later adding, “Frankly, this is a messy moment, and I think we need to acknowledge that — that it is not clear-cut.”
Tara Reade, a former Senate staffer, says that Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993 by pinning her against a wall and penetrating her vagina with his fingers. She also said other behavior, like touching her shoulders, made her feel uncomfortable. Reade could not remember the exact location or date of the alleged assault but said it happened when a supervisor asked her to deliver a duffel bag to Biden on Capitol Hill.
Biden flatly denies Reade’s account.
Biden initially did not respond directly to Reade’s claims but told MSNBC last week: “I’m saying unequivocally, it never, never happened.”
A friend of Reade’s, who spoke to NPR, said Reade told her of the same alleged assault at the time. Reade’s brother recalled his sister telling him some of the account. Reade’s former neighbor told NPR she detailed the same accusation to her two or three years after it allegedly occurred. Reade says she complained of harassment, but not assault, to three then-Biden aides. All three told NPR that those conversations never happened.
Ocasio-Cortez says that the public response has wrongly focused on the political implications of the accusation.
“Instead of focusing on her account, instead of focusing on her story as a survivor, people are fast forwarding to the political implications,” she said. ” ‘Do you want Trump to win? Will you be voting for Joe Biden?’ And that denies justice in this situation.”
Asked what that justice should look like, Ocasio-Cortez said she’d look to what the alleged victim is asking for. In Reade’s case, she says, “if anything, it sounds like she simply wants to be heard. … It seems as though she does not feel she’s been heard yet.”
Last month, Reade filed a police report with the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department because she was worried about her safety after receiving “online harassment.”
Ocasio-Cortez says she will vote for Biden for president but has so far declined to endorse him. An endorsement, she says, “has to do with an understanding of what we are fighting for together.”
“I think an endorsement means we have come to a place where we have developed a vision together not just for winning [in November], but for getting our country to a better place.”
Biden will likely face President Trump in the Nov. 3 election as the Democratic Party’s nominee.
Trump has faced a number of sexual assault accusations from multiple women, which he has denied.