Tara Reade’s Tumultuous Journey to the 2020 Campaign

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To better understand Ms. Reade’s tumultuous journey to the roiling center of the presidential campaign, The New York Times interviewed nearly 100 friends, relatives, co-workers and neighbors and reviewed court records. What emerged was a shambolic life in which Ms. Reade, through her own pluck and smarts and powers of persuasion, overcame an unsettled and abusive childhood to find opportunities on the big stages of acting, politics and law. She won praise for what friends took as a sincere commitment to helping other abuse victims and to animal rescue.

“She was very funny and very engaging and completely well educated, intelligent,” said one former friend and co-worker, Deborah Ayres. But, she added, there was also “this other side that didn’t add up.”

It was there, on that other side, that those opportunities would dissipate amid new blows of abuse, acrimony and regret, leading to Ms. Reade’s more recent scramble for work as a pet sitter and census field supervisor. (That, too, would end in an allegation of maltreatment against her bosses.) She had “a heavy, dark sadness to her,” another friend recalled.

In many ways, The Times’s findings comport with the autobiography Ms. Reade, now 56, has rendered in cinematic detail across blog posts, online essays and court statements. But in the dramatic retelling of her life story she has also shown a tendency to embellish — a role as a movie extra is presented as a break; her title of “staff assistant” with clerical responsibilities in Mr. Biden’s office becomes “legislative assistant” when his shepherding of the Violence Against Women Act is an asset for her expert-witness testimony in court.

And there are the former friends who describe how she spun her way into their confidence with her story of abuse and perseverance, only to leave them feeling disappointed and duped.

Ms. Reade has insisted those friends were in the wrong — one was a “slumlord,” another a “drunk,” a third a tax cheat — just as she said Antioch was mistaken about her degree. In an email, she acknowledged taking “creative license” in some parts of her online biography. Other parts, she said, might include honest mistakes.

“If memories are not perfectly accurate, I will be condemned as a liar in the national press,” she wrote. “This standard is not applied to Joe Biden, who is allowed to make his denials without a simultaneous airing of all the hundreds of inconsistencies between reality and his public statements over the course of his life.”