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Fact Check: Was Biden Arrested Trying to See Nelson Mandela in Prison?

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

In the past few weeks on the campaign trail, former Vice President Joe Biden has been sharing a story we haven't heard before. And it's one that we find hard to believe. According to the former VP, he was arrested while trying to visit Nelson Mandela in prison in the late 1970s.

"This day, 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered into discussions about apartheid," Biden said on the campaign trail in South Carolina last week. "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."

As The New York Times notes, Biden made no mention of the alleged arrest in his 2007 memoir when writing about a trip to South Africa. Moreover, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., who often traveled with Biden in the 70s, insists that Biden was never arrested in South Africa.

Andrew Young, a former congressman and mayor of Atlanta who was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1977 to 1979, said that he had traveled with Mr. Biden over the years, including to South Africa. But Mr. Young said that he had never been arrested in South Africa and expressed skepticism that members of Congress would have faced arrest there.

“No, I was never arrested and I don’t think he was, either,” Mr. Young, now 87, said in a telephone interview.

The Washington Post found no evidence to support Biden's claims, either. It said his story was "ridiculous" and slapped four Pinocchios on it.

Biden's campaign just acknowledged it because they're now doing a bit of damage control. On Tuesday, Biden's deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told reporters that the VP was referring to an incident when "he was separated from his party at Johannesburg airport."

"They, he was not allowed to go through the same door that the - the rest of the party he was with," Bedingfield said. "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."

Yeah, not quite the same.

Some voters are suggesting that Biden embellished the story so soon before the South Carolina Primary in order to shore up black support.

He is still leading the South Carolina polls ahead of Saturday's primary. On Tuesday, he secured the support of Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC).


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