[Posted by Karl]
Well, that’s a title I did not see coming:
Herman Cain’s campaign headquarters has released a response to a story, broken this evening on Politico, that in the 1990s two female employees of the National Restaurant Association “complained to colleagues and senior association officials about inappropriate behavior by Cain,” who at the time was head of the trade group.
Calling the story “thinly sourced allegations,” Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon said: “Since Washington establishment critics haven’t had much luck in attacking Mr. Cain’s ideas to fix a bad economy and create jobs, they are trying to attack him in any way they can.” Gordon did not address any of the specific allegations in the report. Asked for a more specific answer, the campaign did not provide details.
Gordon was similarly evasive calling into the Jerry Rivers show Sunday night. As Guy Benson notes, these are anonymous, amorphous, years-old accusations. On the other hand, Politico claims to have seen documentation describing the allegations and showing that the restaurant association formally resolved the matter. Moreover, Camp Cain apparently declined to respond to Politico about the allegations for 10 days, which makes the initial, non-specific response here less excusable.
One question that immediately occurs is how Politico came upon this story. The site’s Roger Simon suggested on Twitter it may have been original research (although he’s not in the byline for the story). A lot of speculation will be this was Team Perry sticking a fork in Cain’s eyeball. Team Romney might be a less likely suspect, given concern the story might ultimately benefit Perry — but maybe the Romney camp thinks Perry is too damaged to benefit. In that scenario, Romney could win the Iowa caucus and wrap up the nomination quick.
Redstate’s Erick Erickson is pro-Perry (which may be why he downplays the sourcing question), but has a pretty balanced take on the immediate fallout:
First, a great many liberals who defended Bill Clinton will come forward to express outrage. Second, a few conservatives who went after Bill Clinton will defend Herman Cain. Third, many people will quietly brace for more to come out.
The Politico did not release names nor a lot of information. If there is a there there, more will trickle out and each trickle will weigh down the Cain campaign, taking it further and further off message.
We have never seen a candidate publicly vetted before like this. The closest comes with the rise of Mike Huckabee in 2008, when we witnessed what seemed like a never ending media attack. It was, in reality, the other campaigns running as quickly as possible to the media to pour out all the dirt they’d rapidly accumulated.
But Mike Huckabee rose only just before Iowa. The media and the campaigns were caught off guard. This time, people don’t want to be caught off guard. They want to make sure Herman Cain cannot become Mike Huckabee for 2012.
However the story plays out, it tends to underscore why Unelected Businessguy tends to have trouble in campaigns. Such candidates have not received the same vetting as people who have been governors or Senators. And they tend to be unequipped to go into war room mode when accusations like this appear. Further, as I noted in the comments to the Perry attack post, I have never understood the “go easy” school of campaigning, because if vetting, attacks and such do not come out during the primaries, it is a fair bet they will come out during the general election, when it’s more difficult to address.
Update: Cain appeared on FNC. Here’s your key quote:
Yes. I have never sexually harassed anyone, let’s say that. Secondly, I’ve never sexually harassed anyone, and yes, I was falsely accused while I was at the National Restaurant Association, and I say falsely, because it turned out, after the investigation, to be baseless.
Note that Cain’s denial confirms the basics of the Politco story. Also note the Politico story used the term “inappropriate conduct” instead of “sexual harassment.” The lawyer in me cannot help but note that denial of the latter is not necessarily denial of the former, although the former is certainly less of a scandal than the latter. How is it playing? FWIW, Larry Sabato was impressed. Meanwhile, the WaPo asks, “You know who this benefits?” The WaPo’s Aaron Blake, given Cain’s apparent lack of knowledge about settlements, adds: “So Cain knew about the allegations but didn’t follow up to see what the outcome was?”
Update 2: FWIW, Ace writes:
Here’s a big question: “Are we going to hear about other allegations in the future?”
He says, “Absolutely not.” But immediately says: “If more allegations come, people will [sic] simply make them up.”
I say this is a big question because I heard about this stuff a month ago, and I didn’t hear about two incidences. I heard about many more.
I did not have detailed information, certainly nothing publishable. But I heard there was a long and numerous history here.
Ace is not on the Cain Train; then again, this may be a reason he didn’t board. In this vein, Allahpundit tweets: “Interesting phrasing in Politico’s lede last night: ‘At least’ two female employees…”
Update 3: Via Allahpundit, it may be that a less-than-100K settlement suggests innocence more than guilt, particularly if the NRA was insured (which we don’t know). I do not specialize in this area, but it is true that insurers would be pretty sensitive to to cost of defending versus settling.
Update 4: Watch Politico’s Jonathan Martin squirm when asked about the specifics of the story. The other takeway is an emphasis on the difference noted above between “sexual harassment” and “inappropriate conduct.”
Update 5 (A few more and I’ll be in Rick Ellerson territory): Cain talks to Greta Van Susteren about one allegation, which seems like a non-scandal, but adds this about the settlement(s):
Cain said, “My general counsel said this started out where she and her lawyer were demanding a huge financial settlement…I don’t remember a number…But then he said because there was no basis for this, we ended up settling for what would have been a termination settlement.” When van Susteren asked how much money was involved, Cain said. “Maybe three months’ salary. I don’t remember. It might have been two months. I do remember my general counsel saying we didn’t pay all of the money they demanded.”
As for reports that a second woman also complained about his behavior, Cain said, “I am totally unaware as to any formal charges coming from this other person.” Cain said he was told the woman’s name by reporters at Politico. “I have no knowledge that she made a formal complaint,” Cain said.
The Examiner’s Philip A Klein asks: “How can Cain go from claiming he was unaware of settlement, to saying it involved 3 months salary, within a matter of hours?” The answer is that this is amateur hour, emblematic of a candidate who has not taken his campaign very seriously throughout.
Update 6: ProPublica criticizies Politico.
Update 7: The NYT has marginal advancement of the story:
In separate interviews, two people who were affiliated with the restaurant group at the time and knew of the complaints said they knew of the second female employee, who had received a payment related to harassment accusations against Mr. Cain during his 1996-99 tenure as president. The two spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid being pulled into the matter publicly.
The two people who were affiliated with the group said the second woman similarly had complained about what she said had been Mr. Cain’s inappropriate conduct toward her. One of them said she had been taken aback by one interaction in particular while they were traveling, but this person declined to give details. He said he believed the allegation of harassment was not the only issue involved in the woman’s termination package.
As noted in the comments, RCP’s Sean Trende suggests the story is a GOP rival’s oppo dump, adding “The fact it is being dropped in Oct. suggests there is worse to come.”
Update 8: Reax to the Greta interview from NR’s Rich Lowry: “I think Cain seems quite sincere and believable, but he also makes you a little nervous about what he might remember next.”