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Finger-pointing and anonymous accusers tangle the story.
Herman Cain’s presidential campaign issued a press release last night blaming the rival Republican campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry for a Politico article that set in motion the D.C. media’s scandal factory.
“The American people deserve better than these underhanded tactics by the Perry campaign,” Cain’s chief of staff Mark Block said in the statement. “A desperate candidate is trying to steal the Republican nomination away from Mr. Cain.”
Block cited a Forbes online article by Richard Miniter, in which Cain accused a consultant to his unsuccessful 2004 Senate campaign in Georgia, Curt Anderson, of being a conduit for the story of sexual harassment charges against Cain, which date back a dozen years to his tenure as president of the National Restaurant Association. Anderson was recently hired by the Perry campaign, and Block’s statement seemed to take for granted that this proved Cain had been targeted for an opposition research attack by his rival. “Since Politico released an attack story based on anonymous accusers, which was almost certainly provided to them by the Rick Perry campaign, Mr. Cain has taken the honorable path — he has been upfront and honest with the American people.”
Exactly how upfront and honest Cain’s responses have been is still being weighed in the balance. The Politico story cited the cases of two women, former employees of the restaurant association, who reportedly received settlements after making harassment allegations against Cain. In his speech Monday at the National Press Club, the Atlanta businessman was emphatic in denying the allegations: “I have never sexually harassed anyone.” As for the reported settlements, he said: “I hope it wasn’t for much because I didn’t do anything.”
Because the women were reportedly bound by confidentiality agreements — and were not quoted in the Politico article — it was impossible to know exactly what Cain was accused of doing, or to assess the credibility of his unnamed accusers. Many conservatives were immediately outraged by the methods used against Cain. Naming the reporters on the original story, popular blogger Glenn Reynolds asked, “Would Jonathan Martin, Maggie Haberman, Anna Palmer and Kenneth Vogel have put their names on a similar piece, with no named sources, aimed at Barack Obama? Would Politico have run it?” Radio talk-show hosts including Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin strongly defended Cain, but other expressions of support were more tangible: The campaign reported its best-ever fundraising day Monday with more than $400,000 in contributions during a 24-hour span, sources told Kerry Picket of the Washington Times.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal quoted Joel Bennett, a lawyer for one of the women, saying she wished to be released from her confidentiality agreement: “My client disputes Mr. Cain’s claims that he never sexually harassed anyone, and that the claims had no merit.” In an appearance on CBS Wednesday, Bennett said that the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO’s statements about the case had effectively voided the confidentiality agreement and called for “a complete public airing.” Bennett did not name his client, however, nor did the New York Times name the second accuser, a short-term employee who reportedly got a full year’s salary ($35,000) as severance pay after she became “uncomfortable” working for Cain. The article cited unnamed sources saying the woman left after an incident at a work-related event “during which there had been heavy drinking,” but added “that other factors had been involved in her severance, and that other workplace issues had been making her unhappy.”
Two developments Wednesday seemed to bode ill for Cain. The Associated Press reported that a third woman who worked for the National Restaurant Association during Cain’s tenure claimed he also harassed her: “The employee described situations in which she said Cain told her he had confided to colleagues how attractive she was and invited her to his corporate apartment outside work.” This third accused never filed a complaint, AP reported, and was not bound by a confidentiality agreement and yet she, too, was granted anonymity. The second troubling news for Cain came when Chris Wilson, a pollster who formerly worked for the restaurant association, told an Oklahoma City radio station that he was a witness to Cain’s harassment of women. “This occurred at a restaurant in Crystal City (Virginia) and everybody was aware of it,” Wilson told KTOK, adding that “so many people were aware of what took place… everybody knew with the campaign that this would eventually come up.” And he predicted that if the woman “comes out and talks about” the incident “it’ll probably be the end of his campaign.”
The consulting firm that employs Wilson has done polling for a pro-Perry political action committee, a fact that was widely cited as evidence in support of the suspicion that the Perry campaign — whose collapse in polls has coincided with Cain’s recent ascent — was responsible for pushing the harassment story to the media. In an appearance Wednesday on Fox News, Cain’s chief of staff Block said, “The actions of the Perry campaign are despicable.”
Whether the Perry campaign was behind the story is, however, less important to Cain’s fortunes now than whether the story is true. And there is no way for voters to judge the credibility of the accusations against him as long as the accusers remain anonymous. Yet reporters continue to shield the women and, late Wednesday, Bennett told the New York Times that his client “has a life to live and a career, and she doesn’t want to become another Anita Hill.” Cain’s life and career, meanwhile, are evidently viewed as collateral damage in the bizarre shadow war being fought for the 2012 Republican nomination.