The spokesman for former Vice President Joe Biden has branded stories about his behavior as “smears and forgeries” in a combative new statement Monday, the third attempt in four days to respond to swirling allegations about his habit of touching women.
“These smears and forgeries have existed in the dark recesses of the internet for a while. And to this day, right wing trolls and others continue to exploit them for their own gain,” said Bill Russo, spokesman for Biden, who is contemplating a 2020 presidential bid.
Former Nevada state assemblywoman Lucy Flores accused Biden on Friday of touching her inappropriately and kissing her on the back of her head in 2014. Russo, 31, who got to know Biden when he was a White House intern in 2011, is currently the only member of the former vice president's staff.
The first statement from Russo came on Friday, saying that the former vice president was “pleased” to support Flores as a candidate and neither he nor his staff had “an inkling that Ms. Flores had been at any time uncomfortable, nor do they recall what she describes.”
Russo added: “But Vice President Biden believes that Ms. Flores has every right to share her own recollection and reflections, and that it is a change for better in our society that she has the opportunity to do so,” the statement read. “He respects Ms. Flores as a strong and independent voice in our politics and wishes her only the best.”
When this did not dampen the renewed scrutiny of Biden’s pattern of affectionate behavior toward women, the former vice president himself issued a lengthy statement on Sunday, saying in part: “In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately,” Biden wrote. “If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.”
"I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear. But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will."
The third intervention, by Russo again, was a much more aggressive approach, flaming the media and political opponents for bringing up his behavior toward former Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s wife and Sen. Chis Coons' daughter. An article by Stephanie Carter and an interview with Coons pushed Biden's position that there was nothing wrong with his behavior.
Russo said: "In the coverage so far of Lucy Flores’ essay in New York Magazine, reports have made repeated references to supposedly similar, well-documented instances in which the Vice President crossed a line between affectionate or supportive behavior and something—however unintentional—more inappropriate or unwelcome.
"One such instance involved Stephanie Carter, the wife of former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, and the other Senator Chris Coons’ daughter. Each was ostensibly captured by a photo that some have interpreted in a way that is reflected consistently, and without scrutiny, in the reporting. Ms. Flores herself has cited the Carter photo as an example of the behavior she experienced.
"Here’s the problem: in neither case is the often repeated and recirculated interpretation true. Both Stephanie Carter and Senator Coons have now felt compelled to speak out to put these ugly urban legends to rest.
"As Stephanie Carter relates her own experience, she had a fall earlier in the day of her husband’s swearing-in as Defense Secretary and was 'uncharacteristically nervous.' Sensing that she was ill at ease, the Vice President gave her a hug and later, thanking her for her encouragement of her husband in this new and demanding phase of his career, 'kept his hands on my shoulders as a means of offering his support.' She writes that the infamous photo 'was misleadingly extracted from what was a longer moment between close friends—sent out in a snarky tweet.' Ms. Carter is now reclaiming her story—the true one.
"Senator Coons has reclaimed his daughter’s story. The Washington Post has now reported an interview with the Senator in which he states that his daughter, who has known Vice President Biden all her life, views him as a 'grandfather figure.' Mr. Biden was whispering 'praise for her composure and offering to connect her with his own daughter so that they could talk about the challenges of having fathers in the political spotlight. She was not bothered,' the Senator told the Post; 'she did not think of it as anything.'
"So, one now-fabled photo was, in fact, 'misleadingly extracted' from a consoling 'moment between close friends,' and the other captured a grandfatherly word of praise and offer of support for the daughter of long-time friends of the Biden family.
"In other words, the familiar characterizations of these two photos that have been uncritically perpetuated, turn out to be very false. The Carter and Coons accounts are not 'updates' of old stories: they are corrections of false ones.
"And they are not the only ones. There are other, even more insidious examples of claims about the Vice President that have no foundation: the use of photoshopped images and other manipulations of social media. Perhaps most galling of all, a cropped photo of the Vice President comforting his grandson outside of his son Beau’s funeral has been used to further this false narrative.
"These smears and forgeries have existed in the dark recesses of the internet for a while. And to this day, right wing trolls and others continue to exploit them for their own gain.
"The Vice President has issued a statement affirming that in all the many years in public life that he has shaken a hand, given or received a hug, or laid his hand on a shoulder to express concern, support; or reassurance, he never intended to cause discomfort. He has said that he believes that women who have experience any such discomfort, regardless of intention, should speak and be heard, and that he will be among those who listen.
"But the important conversation about these issues are not advanced, nor are any criticisms of Vice President Biden validated, by the continued misrepresentation of the Carter and Coons moments, or a failure to be vigilant about a cottage industry of lies."