Over the past few weeks, Joe Biden has repeatedly made the bizarre claim of having been arrested in South Africa. “This day, 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered into discussions about apartheid,” Biden said at a recent campaign event in South Carolina. “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.”
Because he was a U.S. senator at the time of the alleged arrest, it would have been reported in the U.S. media, but the New York Times found no reference to any arrest, and it is was never mentioned in his 2007 memoir. Snopes and the Washington Post fact-checker also raised doubts about the story. Since it became obvious that Biden was telling another bogus story to make his biography more interesting, he finally admitted Friday that it didn’t happen.
“When I said arrested, I meant I was not able to move,” Biden now claims. “Cops would not let me go with them. I wasn’t arrested, I was stopped. I was not able to move where I wanted to go.”
The former vice president appears to have made no reference to being arrested in South Africa before campaign appearances this year. But in an interview on CNN’s “New Day” Friday morning, Biden walked back the claim himself for the first time.
“When I said arrested, I meant I was not able to move,” Biden said, after recounting what had happened to him. “Cops would not let me go with them. I wasn’t arrested, I was stopped. I was not able to move where I wanted to go.”
His campaign communications director Kate Bedingfield first walked back the claims after Tuesday’s Democratic primary debate in Charleston, S.C., acknowledging to reporters that “he was separated” from the rest of the Congressional Black Caucus delegation he was traveling with, not arrested.
In Biden’s campaign trail retelling, Mandela later thanked him for getting arrested while attempting to see him during that trip, the timing of which has also been disputed by fact-checkers.
Biden also told a fake war story that he was also called out on.
Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis