Vice President Biden failed this morning to put paid to the accusations by a former staffer in his office, Tara Reade, that decades ago he assaulted her sexually. Appearing on “Morning Joe,” Mr. Biden denied the claim unambiguously. He said he asked the Senate to open his files at the National Archives, where, he insisted, any complaint Ms. Reade says she filed would be. He refused, though, to sanction a similar search of his papers at the University of Delaware. So, there’s room for doubt.
That, though, is not dispositive. That’s because the burden does not lie on the accused. The former vice president doesn’t, and shouldn’t, have to say anything. It is among the principles of American jurisprudence that the burden lies entirely with the accuser. That is one of the particulars of due process, which is vouchsafed by our Constitution and Rights Bill to all Americans. In a court of law in America, a person accused of a crime doesn’t even have to put up a syllable of defense.
We comprehend that “Morning Joe” is not a court of law. It’s just newspaper work, if that. At least for us, that is not a major cavil. It doesn’t matter to us whether it’s a court of law, a congressional hearing, or the school yard. We have stuck to due process when the accused is a Republican, like Justice Brett Kavanaugh, or a Democrat, like, say, Congressman John Conyers. We’ve stood for due process for Senator Burr and Judge Roy Moore. Many others, too, throughout a long newspaper life.
“The due process guarantees in the Constitution apply only to proper legal proceedings,” we noted in the case of Judge Moore. “They are in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. They apply to cases involving life, liberty, and property — not public office.” We added that “the nature of the accusations against Judge Moore are such, though, that he would have been owed due process had the charges been levied in a timely manner.” Whether he could have had a due process when the charges were finally aired is doubtful.
The assault of which Mr. Biden is being accused is alleged to have happened in 1993. Mr. Biden says not only that he doesn’t remember it but that it didn’t happen. That’s what Judge Kavanaugh said. In Justice Kavanaugh’s case, the assault was alleged to have taken place even further back, in 1982. Failing to make an allegation at the time of the assault doesn’t mean the assault didn’t happen. The fact is, though, that with every passing year the burden of due process gets harder to sustain.
So it may be that the burden that Mr. Biden will have to bear is not whether anyone believes his denials but rather his exposure as a hypocrite. This has been marked by other editorial writers — of the Wall Street Journal, the National Review, and the New York Post, among them. It is galling the way Mr. Biden is now asking for the kind of consideration he refused others, including Justice Clarence Thomas. The National Review calls the Democrats’ hypocrisy over Ms. Reade’s allegations a “national disgrace.”
Whether it will cost Mr. Biden so much as a single vote, we wouldn’t hazard a guess. It could, though, make it harder for the Democrats to run a repeat of the 2016 campaign. Candidate Trump made it clear early in his campaign that he wasn’t going to sit for questions about his personal probity from either one of the Clintons. He brought President Clinton’s accusers to one of the debates. We’re not suggesting that can, or should, be repeated. In 2016, though, Mr. Trump did go on to win the election.