Tara Reade, a former Senate staffer who in 2020 accused then-candidate Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her in 1993, reportedly defected to Russia this week amid claims that she felt unsafe and that her life and freedom were at risk in the U.S. under President Biden's administration.
A top spokesman for the White House disputed Reade's claim on Wednesday and insisted that it was "absolutely false" that she faced any sort of danger from the U.S. government, TIME magazine reported.
That White House official, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, also seemed to take a couple of subtle digs at Reade even as he dismissed the notion that she was some sort of Russian agent or involved in Russian information and propaganda operations.
On Tuesday, Russian media outlet Sputnik reported that Reade had recently defected to Russia as she no longer felt safe in America and that she was receiving assistance on obtaining Russian citizenship from Maria Butina, a member of Russia's parliament who was previously imprisoned in the U.S. for being a Russian agent.
In an interview with the outlet, Reade said, "I'm still kind of in a daze a bit but I feel very good. I feel very surrounded by protection and safety. And I just really so appreciate Maria and everyone who's been giving me that at a time when it's been very difficult to know if I'm safe or not. I just didn't want to walk home and walk into a cage or be killed, which is basically my two choices."
She acknowledged that the decision to defect to Russia was "very difficult" but noted that "from what I could see based on the cases and based on what was happening and sort of the push for them to not want me to testify, I felt that while this election is gearing up and there's so much at stake, I'm almost better off here and just being safe."
Reade's mention in that interview of facing opposition to her plans to "testify" was likely in reference to an invitation she had reportedly received from Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) to give sworn testimony to the House Oversight Committee with regard to her allegations of sexual assault against President Biden.
That had been revealed about three weeks earlier in a cryptic tweet on May 7 that also reflected her apparent feelings of not being safe, as she wrote at that time, "I want to make something clear. If something happens to me, all roads lead to Joe Biden. Joe Biden and DNC political machine threats, bullying and intimidation over the last three years will not work."
Reade further stated that she was "not suicidal," was not a "foreign agent," and would not be silenced or suppressed by the "DOJ and FBI and social media," and that "I will testify under oath in Congress if asked to do so and tell what happened and what I know. The Biden corruption must end. Period Thank you @RepMTG and @mattgaetz for inviting me to testify and caring about the truth!"
During Wednesday's White House press briefing, NSC spokesman Kirby was asked by a reporter for a reaction to Reade's seeking citizenship and safety in Russia and Kirby initially said that he would not "comment on the -- on the musings of a potential Russian citizen. That’s really up for her to speak to."
As to whether she was motivated by an "allegiance to/affinity for Russia," Kirby replied, "Difficult to say. I mean, I can’t get inside her -- her head and speak for her motivations or intentions. That’s really for her to speak to," but then added, "The one thing I will say is that the allegations that her life was at risk by the United States government: absolutely false, baseless; there’s nothing to that."
Later in the briefing, another reporter asked Kirby if the White House believed that Reade was part of a "Russian influence operation," but the NSC spokesman said he'd "seen no evidence or proof of that."
Pressed on whether Reade may have been influenced by Russia, Kirby replied, "Again, I would let this prospective Russian citizen speak for her intentions and motivations" before launching into a brief rehash of the allegations of Russian influence operations and interference in U.S. elections.
"But whether this particular move by this particular individual is some sort of Russian information op or propaganda campaign, I just -- I just don’t know," he added.