Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) admitted on Friday that he had not actually been arrested in South Africa, a claim he made several times on the campaign trail over the last few weeks.
Biden, who is seeking to regain momentum in the Democratic primary with a win in South Carolina on Saturday, was forced to walk back the remarks after increased media scrutiny of his claims.
During several campaign stops, Biden had told audiences a version of a story in which he “had the great honor of being arrested” alongside a U.N. ambassador while trying to visit Mandela in 30 years ago.
“I guess I wasn’t arrested,” Mr. Biden said in a CNN interview on Friday. “I was stopped. I was not able to move where I wanted to go.”
When Biden initially made the comments, several reporters questioned their veracity.
The U.N. ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Andrew Young, told The New York Times he had never been arrested with Biden “and I don’t think [Biden] was, either.”
Joe Biden says he was arrested in Soweto, South Africa "trying to get to see [Nelson Mandela]" on Robben Island.
The only problem? Soweto is 872 miles from Robben Island and THIS NEVER HAPPENED. It's a complete fabrication by the former Vice President.https://t.co/WfcQdk0aMH
— Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa ✶ (@CDRosa) February 22, 2020
In the CNN interview, Biden told a different version of the story, saying he was “separated” from a group, but not arrested.
“I said, ‘I’m not going to go in that door that says white only,’” Mr. Biden told CNN about a confrontation with police. “‘I’m going with them.’ They said, ‘You’re not, you can’t move, you can’t go with them,’ and they, and they kept me there.”
Biden’s communications director Kate Bedingfield had offered her own explanation for the remarks after the Democratic debate in South Carolina, telling reporters that he was “separated” but not conceding that he wasn’t arrested.
“It was a separation,” she said. “He was not allowed to go through the same door as the rest of the party he was with. Obviously, this was apartheid South Africa. There was a white door. There was a black door. He did not want to go through the white door, and have the rest of the party go to the black door. He was separated.”
But even that explanation didn’t add up. As The Washington Post noted, Bedingfield’s story was “puzzling” given that “congressional delegations at the time did not land in South Africa but in Lesotho, a kingdom that achieved independence in 1966.”
Biden has faced tough questions over the stories he has told about the history of his civil rights activism, and this latest walk back comes just as the candidate heads into South Carolina for a crucial primary vote.
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