Former Vice President Joe Biden walked back claims he made about having been arrested while visiting South Africa decades ago.
Despite claiming multiple times on the campaign trail that he was arrested in the 1970s as he sought to meet with anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, Biden admitted on CNN Friday that he was merely “stopped.”
The 2020 Democratic candidate told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day” Friday about the alleged incident over 30 years ago, clarifying that he was not actually “arrested” as he had repeatedly claimed, but that he “was not able to move where I wanted to go.”
Biden recounted that he was traveling with the Congressional Black Caucus when law enforcement in South Africa led him off of a plane.
“I turned around and everybody — all the entire black delegation was going another way,” he told Berman. “I said, ‘I’m not going to go in that door that says “white only,” I’m going with them.’ They said, ‘You’re not, you can’t move, you can’t go with them.’ And they kept me there until finally, I decided that it was clear I wasn’t going to move.”
“And so what they finally did they said okay, they’re not going to make the congressional delegation go through the black door, they’re not going to make me go through the white door. They took us out — if my memory serves me — through a baggage claim area up to a restaurant, and they cleared out a restaurant,” he explained.
In recent weeks, Biden had told a very different version of what happened.
“This day, 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered into discussions about apartheid,” he said at a campaign event in South Carolina, according to The New York Times. “I had the great honor of meeting him. I had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him on Robbens Island.”
Andrew Young, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the time, refuted that claim in comments told to The New York Times last week.
Biden also claimed that Mandela, after he was freed, came to see him in Washington and mentioned his arrest.
“After he got free and became president, he came to Washington and came to my office,” he said, according to the Times. “He threw his arms around me and said, ‘I want to say thank you.’ I said, ‘What are you thanking me for, Mr. President?’ He said, ‘You tried to see me. You got arrested trying to see me.’”
But in a review of news accounts, the newspaper could not find any record of Biden being arrested and his claims began to come under more scrutiny.
“Biden has never been shy about tooting his own horn. So it’s pretty surprising that on the eve of a primary critical to his election hopes, he suddenly recalls being arrested in South Africa — and being thanked by Mandela for being arrested,” Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post wrote. “There is no evidence for either claim; neither appears remotely credible.”
Biden campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told reporters this week that the then-Delaware senator was actually “separated from his party at the airport.”
“It was a separation. They, he was not allowed to go through the same door that the — the rest of the party he was with. Obviously, it 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 through the black door. He was separated. This was during a trip while they were there in Johannesburg,” she explained.
Biden asserted on Friday that he felt “strongly about apartheid” in South Africa and recalled how Mandela had thanked him years later.
“Long after this, when Nelson Mandela was freed and came to the United States, he came to my office. He was one of the most incredible men I ever met. He sat down in my office and thanked me, thanked me for all the work I did on apartheid,” he said.
“So that’s the context of it,” he added. “When I said ‘arrested’ I meant I was not able to move, cops would not let me go with them and made me stay where I was. I guess I wasn’t arrested, I was stopped, I was not able to move where I wanted to go.”
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