Tara Reade didn't file a formal complaint against Joe Biden but the media are on another snipe-hunt for a Dem candidate's documents
Whatever one thinks of Senator John Kerry, or the Vietnam War, the fact is that he served in that conflict, saw brutal combat, earned three Purple Hearts for wounds he sustained and won a Bronze Star and a Silver Star for valor under fire. But when Kerry became the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, America was introduced to "Swiftboating" after a group of Republican operatives bankrolled by major donors to George W. Bush rounded up some disgruntled vets and made a series of fuzzy allegations that Kerry had exaggerated his combat experience or and hadn't earned his medals. The allegations were widely debunked.
But the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and others on the right, nonetheless demanded that Kerry release his service records. Judicial Watch, a gadfly right-wing law firm established during the 1990s "Clinton wars" to file cockamamie politically-inspired litigation mostly against Democrats, sued the Navy to compel their release. Various pundits wondered why Kerry wouldn't simply release the records if he had nothing to hide.
He did release various wartime records, and eventually authorized the release of his entire service record, but the tussle over Kerry's documents kept the contrived "scandal" alive for the duration of the campaign. A poll conducted by Time Magazine a couple of months before Election Day found that the effort had "sowed at least some doubt about Kerry's Vietnam war record in the minds of about 1 in 3 voters (35%) who... say there's 'some truth' to the accusations."
One of the co-founders of the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth was Jerome Corsi, a far-right conspiracy theorist who was investigated by Robert Mueller's team for possibly serving as a conduit between Roger Stone and Wikileaks in 2016, and is reportedly currently under investigation for his role in a coronavirus-related scam.
Four years after that effort, Corsi became a leading "Birther." Over the next few years, Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman, who had broken with the group he had founded in a very ugly spat, filed a slew of lawsuits against Obama, including several that amplified the far-right's relentless demands that he release his long-form birth certificate. That was only one of many similarly goofy "allegations" that Obama had gotten a wide array of records "sealed," including his college transcripts, his thesis, his Selective Service record, his health records, etc.
The birther stuff was too obviously racist, and those pushing it were too far out on the fringe for the media to echo their demands. But like Kerry in 2004, Obama eventually did release his birth certificate, saying, "We do not have time for this kind of silliness. I've been puzzled at the degree to which this (story) just kept on going." Prominent birthers, including the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, nonetheless continued to question Obama's eligibility because sowing doubt about it was always the goal.
Hillary Clinton faced demands to release transcripts of off-the-record speeches she'd given at Goldman Sachs--a missing documents drama that began on the left but was picked up by Donald Trump, who called for them to be leaked days before Wikileaks did just that. Judicial Watch also filed over 20 lawsuits related to her emails. That story was "bullshit," as Matt Yglesias put it, but an analysis of media coverage by researchers at Harvard University found that the press devoted an inordinate amount of time to it.
Now, in 2020, Judicial Watch brags that the firm is "seeking records through 7 lawsuits and dozens of FOIA requests related to [Joe Biden's] dealings with the Ukrainian Burisma and the Chinese BHR Partners." One can expect them to add documents related to Tara Reade, the former Biden staffer who alleges that the presumptive Democratic nominee raped her in a Senate hallway in 1993, to their demands.
The media are already amplifying their efforts.
.@Elise_Jordan: "I think anything the Biden campaign can do, if they could agree on a certain number of reporters,… https://t.co/qPLrAllczH— Andrea Mitchell (@Andrea Mitchell)1588545861.0
Joe Biden’s refusal to open his archived Senate records could cause serious headaches for his campaign https://t.co/us6OAIuhO5— POLITICO (@POLITICO)1588424468.0
But there's a problem. According to reporting by NBC, it doesn't appear that Reade ever filed a formal complaint. After the Secretary of the Senate’s office said that they're prohibited by law from releasing any of Biden's old documents or even characterizing what they contain, they gave NBC a rundown of the process that was in place to handle such complaints back in 1993.
Under that process, Reade’s first step would have been to submit a “request for counseling” — the first of three steps that might lead to a formal complaint and hearing. That counseling process involves informing the employee of their rights and responsibilities while also documenting their allegation.
Biden’s office would not have been notified of Reade’s allegation during this initial step, according to the employment practices. It would have been only if Reade moved into the next step, mediation.
In an interview with the Associated Press last year, Reade indicated that she “chickened out” after her initial outreach to the office. At the time, Reade alleged that Biden had sexually harassed her, stopping short of assault.
Even if she had filed a complaint, Reade says that she didn't report the alleged assault at the time, nor did she describe what she experienced as "harassment." Biden has already acknowledged that he has intruded on women's personal space and made them uncomfortable and apologized for it, so it's pretty clear that there's no relevant information to be gleaned from Biden's Senate papers.
But of course, the right isn't interested in information. As Paul Waldman wrote for The Washington Post, "the common thread" linking these unusual requests for disclosure "is the allegation that hidden documents contain incriminating information, and if we can get our hands on them, then everything will change. As Republicans know, this plays right into reporters’ suspicion of secrecy. The result is wave after wave of news coverage that assumes that the Democratic candidate is concealing something nefarious."
This tactic is born of the contrived Whitewater scandal of the 1990s, when Republican operatives turned a land deal that Bill and Hillary Clinton lost money on into a series of contrived controversies despite the fact that there was never a concrete allegation of wrongdoing on their part.
Someday, perhaps a Democratic candidate won't face novel demands for disclosure. But it's unlikely as the tactic has proven effective, and will continue to be as long as reporters keep falling for it.