The woman who claims former vice president and presumptive 2020 Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden sexually assaulted her has now identified what arguably counts as corroborating evidence: a recording of her mother calling CNN’s Larry King to purportedly discuss the incident.
In August 1993, accuser Tara Reade says her mother, Jeanette Altimus, called Larry King Live to talk with the program’s titular host and his guests. The title of the program that day was “Washington: The Cruelest City on Earth,” and one of the guests was Lois Romano, who at the time worked as a journalist for the Washington Post. The caller heard in the clip above has since been identified by Reade as her mother.
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Ryan Grim, who also broke the story about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh‘s alleged sexual assault of Christine Blasey-Ford, obtained a transcript of the broadcast in question on Friday.
The phone call begins:
KING: San Luis Obispo, California, hello.
CALLER: Yes, hello. I’m wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington? My daughter has just left there, after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.
KING: In other words, she had a story to tell but, out of respect for the person she worked for, she didn’t tell it?
CALLER: That’s true.
“These are the people who do come to the Lois Romanos right?” King says to his Washington Post guest. “The staff worker who says, ‘I want to let you know what’s going on; either with my boss or the guy down the hall.'”
“‘This is going on and I’m troubled,'” Romano tells King, as if to conjure up what she hears from her sources. Then, to King, she says, “and a lot of these people have a sense of obligation. They feel that this public official should be accountable if it’s something wrong.”
“They’re whistleblowers to the press?” King asks.
“Exactly,” Romano agrees.
The call happened in August 1993. Romano went on in 1998 to cover the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill Clinton. “She was also part of the team covering the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment of Bill Clinton,” a Harvard biography says.
According to Grim, congressional records show Reade left Biden’s Senate office the same month and year the call to Larry King occurred: August 1993. Property records, Grim says, further show that Reade’s mother was living in San Luis Obispo County at the time of the phone call.
Law&Crime previously learned about the existence of the call while reporting Reade’s story in late March. However, a needle-in-a-haystack quest to obtain the broadcast initially proved unsuccessful given the vagueness of the conversation: neither Reade, nor her mother, nor Biden are named. Grim notes how he came to obtain the transcript: “I was unable to find the call, but mentioned it in an interview with Katie Halper, the podcast host who first aired Reade’s allegation. After the podcast aired, a listener managed to find the call and sent it to The Intercept.”
Law&Crime has since independently obtained the video. Reade has also since confirmed that the voice on the other end of line was her mother’s.
“It is my mom,” she said after watching the clip.
Reade’s mother has since passed.
“My mother was so brave and supportive in protecting me by calling in to Larry King,” Reade told Law&Crime. “You can hear her shakiness, and I gave her a hard time, as I was scared. I wish I could hug her and say ‘sorry.’ I love and miss her. It was poignant listening to my mom’s voice.”
The existence of the video adds at least some arguable backup to Reade’s allegation against Biden but is likely to raise evergreen questions about the nature of corroborating evidence.
According to the Nolo Plain-English Law Dictionary, corroborating evidence is “[e]vidence that strengthens, adds to, authenticates, or confirms already existing evidence.” A similar definition is supplied by Law.Com’s legal dictionary: “evidence which strengthens, adds to, or confirms already existing evidence.” Merriam-Webster’s Law Dictionary elaborates a bit further: “evidence that is independent of and different from but that supplements and strengthens evidence already presented as proof of a factual matter.”
Attorney and Rewire News Senior Legal Analyst Imani Gandy offered the following explanation of corroborating evidence in defense of Dr. Ford’s congressional testimony:
Corroborating evidence doesn’t mean air-tight proof. Corroboration isn’t a smoking gun: in this case, a video of the assault or a dispassionate third-party witness to it. Corroboration is any evidence that supports an allegation or claim. As outlined in Black’s Law Dictionary, “The testimony of a witness is said to be corroborated when it is shown to correspond with the representation of some other witnesses, or to comport with some facts otherwise known or established.”
To paraphrase Gandy, any evidence that supports Reade’s claim that Biden assaulted her when she worked as his staffer in 1993 is corroborating evidence. The evidence may be weak. The evidence may be strong. But it is still corroborating evidence if it tends to support the allegation that Biden assaulted Reade.
An analogous test is applied under Rule 401(a) of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which is also used in many state courts: “Evidence is relevant if . . . it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence” (emphasis added). In other words, anything which shoves the needle on the scale of believability even a hair’s width is relevant.
Sexual assault experts have cautioned the public against expecting too much from corroborating evidence. As a general legal rule, corroboration has been jettisoned as a legal requirement for most sex crimes convictions in many states. A victim’s word, so long as it is believed beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury, is legally enough to secure a conviction in most, but not all instances.
“Women don’t report because they don’t think they’re going to be believed and they don’t have trust in the criminal justice system,” Dr. Lori Haskell, a clinical psychologist who trains police on sexual assault investigations, also said in October 2018. Her comments were made in the context of the campaign against Blasey Ford by Kavanaugh’s conservative defenders.
“If the bar is, ‘We have to corroborate by somebody else being able to validate or back up this story,’ then the bar is too high and women will never be able to come forward.”
Biden has been silent as to the accusations. His campaign has denied them. Biden has not been charged with a crime, nor has he been sued civilly over the matter. Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police recently confirmed that there is an active and ongoing investigation into Reade’s recently-filed complaint against Biden.
[Featured image of Joe Biden via Drew Angerer/Getty Images.]
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