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In this file photo taken on March 10, 2020, Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden leaves after speaking at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

After weeks of having his staff deny a sexual assault allegation by former staffer Tara Reade, Joe Biden finally came out and did so himself Friday. On the show Morning Joe, Mr. Biden’s denial was forceful enough. He didn’t look uncomfortable in saying, “I’m saying unequivocally it never, never happened and it didn’t.”

But for the presumptive Democratic nominee, the refutation will not signal the end of the story. While Ms. Reade’s version of what happened 27 years ago in a Senate office building has holes and inconsistencies, she does have enough corroboration to keep the story alive, which she intends to do.

The verdict on who is telling the truth will break down along predictable partisan lines.

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Given Donald Trump’s disgraceful record of alleged sexual abuse of women – more than a dozen accusations have been made against him – Republicans might be hesitant about pursuing the controversy. But it’s not likely to stop them.

As for the Democrats, they are hardly in a position to argue that the allegations are being blown out of proportion. In 2018, many prominent Democrats called for an FBI investigation into Christine Blasey Ford’s claims that she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were in high school. Prof. Blasey Ford had less corroborating evidence for her claim than does Ms. Reade.

Big media had seemed to be shying away from her charges until this past week, when Lynda LaCasse, a former neighbour, revealed that Ms. Reade told her in the mid-90s that Mr. Biden had assaulted her by putting his fingers inside her. Another woman, Lorraine Sanchez – who worked with Ms. Reade in California – said Ms. Reade told her about having been sexually harassed by her boss in Washington.

Grounds for skepticism about the accusation, however, begin with the timelines. It comes 27 years after it allegedly occurred. In 2019, when she made harassment accusations about Mr. Biden as part of a number of women who spoke out about unwelcome touching by Mr. Biden, she didn’t mention any assault. In March of this year, the accusation dramatically escalated to an assault allegation.

This came at the time that Mr. Biden was getting a strong grip on the Democratic nomination, moving well ahead of Bernie Sanders, the candidate strongly favoured by Ms. Reade.

Ms. Reade’s brother, Collin Moulton, also told The Washington Post that his sister had told him that Mr. Biden had inappropriately touched her neck and shoulders. Days later, he texted the newspaper to say that he also remembered her saying that Mr. Biden put his hand under her clothes.

And while Ms. Reade remembers the year that the alleged assault occurred, she does not recall the time, date, or specific location within the Capitol Building.

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Ms. Reade told The New York Times, whose investigation of the allegation turned up no conclusive evidence against Mr. Biden, that she filed a written complaint against the then-senator. But The Times could not find any such complaint. And Ms. Reade said she did not have a copy of it. In his interview on Morning Joe, Mr. Biden said he welcomed a search of the National Archives for any such document, but declined to release his Senate papers at the University of Delaware as they contain no personnel files, he said.

Ms. Reade also said she reported Mr. Biden’s alleged harassment to three of his aides at the time it happened. All three have denied hearing such a complaint from her, as have others who were on staff at the time.

In the 1990s, Mr. Biden worked to secure passage of the Violence Against Women Act. In 2017, Ms. Reade repeatedly tweeted praise for him for his work on the issue. At one point, she tweeted, “My old boss speaks truth. Listen.” Some might regard it as a bit bizarre that she would praise Mr. Biden for his fight against the very behaviour she would subsequently accuse him of having inflicted upon her.

Unfortunately, Mika Brzezinski, who conducted the Morning Joe interview, didn’t even ask Mr. Biden if he had any contact with Ms. Reade or if he even remembered her. Nor did she ask about his unwanted touching of other staffers.

The story appears destined to descend into a he-said-she-said netherworld. Mr. Biden’s image could suffer some damage, but if there is any lesson to be learned from the Trump experience, not much. Sexual abuse allegations against him entered the 2016 campaign with the release of the Access Hollywood tape in which he boasted of groping women – but they did not appear to heavily affect the election verdict.

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