Following records requests from Fox News about documents related to Tara Reade's allegations against Joe Biden, the University of Delaware refused to provide any documents from its collection of Biden's senatorial papers, citing a provision in state law that purportedly exempts the school from requests not related to "public funds."
The university, which stores and owns the records, gave its response late Wednesday ahead of a looming deadline.
On April 29 and 30, Fox News sent three public records requests to the University of Delaware asking for access to any documents in its possession in relation to Reade's allegations against the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Biden, his campaign and other former staffers for Biden have denied the allegation and said it could not have happened in that Senate office's culture – while also maintaining, in response to inquiries about his senatorial records, that personnel files would not be housed at the university.
One request asked for all documents in the Biden senatorial papers "that are from 1993 and mention a staffer named 'Tara Reade' by either her first or last name," and documents from 1993 that "mention complaints filed against Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., or any of the staffer in his Senate office." A second asked for "a copy of the gift agreement between the University of Delaware and Joseph R. Biden Jr.," regarding the senatorial papers and "any other documents that relate to the university's policy of releasing" the papers "'no sooner than the later date of December 31, 2019, or two years after the donor retires from public life.'"
Those requests were denied, the university's Associate Vice President and General Counsel Jennifer Becnel-Guzzo said, because "[t]he documents and correspondence you have requested do not relate to the expenditure of public funds, as defined by FOIA."
The university appears to be relying on a single ambiguous clause to claim that it is shielded from requests having to do with "activities of the University of Delaware."
Adam Laxalt, the former Republican attorney general of Nevada and the outside counsel of Americans for Public Trust, a nonprofit government watchdog, cast doubt on the grounds for the university's denial.
"The Delaware Freedom of Information Act is intended to guarantee access of public information from public entities to the public," Laxalt said. "It is hard to believe that this narrow exception the university relies on was ever contemplated to shield from the public a collection of papers like the Biden papers."
The act's preamble states that it "is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner so that our citizens shall have the opportunity to observe the performance of public officials and to monitor the decisions that are made by such officials in formulating and executing public policy; and further, it is vital that citizens have easy access to public records in order that the society remain free and democratic."
Laxalt added: "In areas of ambiguity like we have here, courts understandably tend to be very deferential in guarding the public's right to public information."
Fox News sent a separate request asking for "all correspondence involving any members of the University of Delaware's board of trustees, the university president, or any employees of the university library" relating to Biden's presidential run or the senatorial papers after March 1. Reade, a former Senate staffer, leveled her sexual assault allegation against Biden later that month.
In her response, Becnel-Guzzo noted that meetings of the University of Delaware's board of trustees are expressly subject to public records requests under Delaware's FOIA law. She said, though, that there is no record of Biden's papers or presidential run being discussed at the meetings.
"The candidacy of Joseph R. Biden, Jr. for president and the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. senatorial papers were never addressed in a meeting of the full board of trustees," Becnel-Guzzo's response read. "Therefore, the university has no public records responsive to your three requests."
The University of Delaware previously told Fox News that it will not release the senatorial papers without the former vice president's "express consent." Reade has called for Biden to agree to the records' release.... (Read more)
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