Biden Senate papers: 3 things to know about the University of Delaware archive

The files, which the university is still curating nearly a decade later, will be held under seal for two years after Mr Biden retires from 'public life'

Griffin Connolly
Friday 01 May 2020 19:59 BST
Mother of Joe Biden sexual assault accuser asks advice in 1993 Larry King call-in

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Louise Thomas

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With former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, facing allegations that he sexually assaulted a staffer in 1993, support has grown in recent days for him to release an archive at the University of Delaware of documents from his days as a US senator between 1973 and 2009.

In 2011, Mr Biden donated more than 1,800 cartons of papers and 415 gigabytes of electronic records to the university.

Those documents from Mr Biden's Senate tenure include transcripts of his public speeches, records of his private conversations with world leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, memos between members of his staff, and even daily schedules of events and meetings.

The files, which the university is still curating nearly a decade later, will be held under seal for two years after Mr Biden retires from "public life."

Here are three things you should know about Mr Biden's University of Delaware archive and its relevance to the sexual assault claim.

1. Who is calling for Mr Biden to release his Senate papers

It's not just conservatives.

The liberal-leaning editorial boards at multiple prominent news outlets — such as the Washington Post — have called on the former vice president to release relevant documents from the university stash so the independent press can examine the sexual assault allegation.

And in an article published in The Atlantic entitled "Biden should release his papers," journalism professor Peter Beinart argues that the press "can’t thoroughly and diligently evaluate" the claims without access to Mr Biden's papers.

Tara Reade, a former staff assistant for Mr Biden, accused him last month of penetrating her with his fingers against her will in a Senate office building in 1993 and asking her if she wanted to "go somewhere else." Mr Biden and his campaign have strongly denied Ms Reade's allegation.

Ms Reade has said she filed a personnel complaint for sexual harassment shortly after the alleged incident in 1993. But she did not include details in the complaint about Mr Biden's alleged sexual assault. She never made that claim publicly until 25 March of this year.

In an MSNBC interview on Friday, Mr Biden denied that any such incident took place.

“I’m saying unequivocally, it never, never happened,” the former vice president said.

2. What is in the Biden archives at the University of Delaware archives and what's not

It is unclear whether the collection at the University of Delaware would contain the personnel complaint Ms Reade has said she filed through the Senate's office of personnel management in 1993.

Mr Biden repeatedly insisted in his interview on Friday that it would not: If any such complaint exists it would be in the National Archives, he said. Mr Biden urged the National Archives to publicly release any such document if there is one.

But while the archive at the University of Delaware might not include any complaint filed by Ms Reade herself, it contains contemporaneous memos, meeting notes, and other documents that could show whether or not Mr Biden or his staff discussed Ms Reade's allegation at the time.

Each Senate office employs dozens of staffers who oversee everything from constituent case work and legislative drafting to personnel management, press relations, and mail that the office receives. The trove of documents from Mr Biden's time in the Senate is sure to include files and notes from nearly all those people who worked for him over the years (including in 1993).

That's part of the reason it has taken the university nine years and counting to curate the archive.

3. Why Mr Biden doesn't want to open the University of Delaware archive to the public

The answer is simple: He's running for office and doesn't want to provide Republican opposition researchers a treasure chest of information about his private deliberations in the Senate that could be weaponized against his current campaign.

The documents at the University of Delaware include transcripts of Mr Biden's conversations with foreign leaders, such as Mr Putin, that “could really be taken out of context" and manipulated by his opponents, Mr Biden said in his MSNBC interview on Friday.

“All of that to be fodder in a campaign at this time — I don’t know of anybody who’s done anything like that,” Mr Biden said.

And he's right.

Former vice president and Tennessee Senator Al Gore's papers from his time in Congress still have not been released, 20 years after he last held public office.

After Utah Senator Mitt Romney left his position as governor of Massachusetts in 2007, his staffers cleared their emails from the state server.

Mr Biden appears to have taken similarly active steps to keep his Senate papers under wraps.

The University of Delaware archive was initially slated to be released in January of last year: At the time Mr Biden donated his documents in 2011, the university announced that it would not open them up to the public until two years after Mr Biden retired from "public office."

But the university has since revised its initial statement and agreed to withhold public access to the documents until two years after Mr Biden retires from "public life," a much broader term that means he can keep them under seal for at least two years after the current presidential campaign.

It is not unusual for lawmakers to donate files from their time in public office to universities before they retire from public life.

In fact, the University of Delaware special collections archive is home to documents from current Delaware Democratic Senator Tom Carper.

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