US Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden has finally spoken about the allegation of sexual misconduct by his former staffer Tara Reade, saying in his first statement on the issue that the alleged incident “never happened.”

“I want to address allegations by a former staffer that I engaged in misconduct 27 years ago,” Biden wrote. “They aren’t true. This never happened.”

Public and media pressure had been mounting on Biden to address the allegations directly, given that only his campaign had commented on Reade’s claims until now.

Biden said that while the details of the allegations of harassment and sexual assault “are complicated,” it was clear that women who step forward with such claims “deserve to be treated with dignity and respect” and that they “should be heard, not silenced.”

But it is also true that women’s stories “should be subject to appropriate inquiry and scrutiny,” he added, claiming that Reade’s story has a “growing record of inconsistencies” which should be examined by “responsible news organizations.”

Reade, who worked in Biden’s Senate office in 1993, has claimed that he cornered her in an office building on Capitol Hill and assaulted her. While Biden’s campaign has been eager to suggest there’s no record of the incident, at least two of Reade’s former associates have corroborated her claim.

The former senator’s campaign called on the National Archive to release any personnel record it might have had that was relevant to the alleged incident. Biden is adamant that none would be found, because none exists.

Reade said she filed a harassment complaint against Biden at the time and that it might have been stored at the University of Delaware, where his Senate papers will remain under lock and key until he resigns from public life. Biden wants to keep them sealed, maintaining that if the entire archive were to be opened up to public scrutiny, it could hurt his presidential run.

Mika really grilled Biden here about opening up the archive to find the Tara Reade complaint. Biden dodges about 5 times before she moves on. She is clearly unsatisfied with his answer.

Mika Brzezinski, who spoke to Biden on MSNBC on Friday in a follow-up interview, suggested a limited search for Reade’s name could be undertaken by the university staff or a commission, but Biden refuted this, saying there was no personnel record in there “by definition.”

A slew of top female Democrats have lined up in recent days to defend Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi chief among them, though their reaction has been a far cry from the party’s calls to “believe women” when Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was accused of rape by Christine Blasey Ford ahead of his nomination hearing in 2018.

In recent days, Biden has also been pushing the talking point that an investigation by the New York Times found that the incident “did not happen,” prompting the newspaper to issue a statement clarifying that its investigation had “made no conclusion either way.”

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