We knew it couldn't last. We knew something would eventually derail the Cain Train. We just never suspected it would be this.
Herman Cain is by no means the first powerful man to be accused of sexual harassment. And, as of this writing, we don't know whether he's guilty or not. We still don't know all the facts. But what we do know doesn't look good.
As first reported by Politico, we know that two unnamed women, former employees of the National Restaurant Association, once filed complaints of inappropriate sexual behavior against Cain, in the late '90s, when he was the NRA's president. Cain admits he knew of the complaints and turned them over to his general counsel for investigation. After first denying it, he now also admits knowing that both women were offered cash settlements for leaving their jobs. One woman, according to the New York Times, received a year's salary, or $35,000. In return, both women signed a confidentiality agreement. Since Politico's first report, news has surfaced of similar accusations made by a third anonymous female employee.
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Even though one might logically surmise that the NRA would never have agreed to any cash settlement with the two employees unless their charges were serious, Cain still denies any wrongdoing. I was present at the National Press Club this week when he declared: "In all my over 40 years of business experience … I have never sexually harassed anyone. While at the Restaurant Association, I was accused of sexual harassment – falsely accused, I might add."
For now, not knowing all the facts, what is most shocking about the Cain scandal is not so much the accusations made against him as the candidate's inept response. Faced with such serious charges, you'd expect a serious candidate to lay out the facts in order to clear his name. Instead, the Cain camp resorted to the lowest of stereotypical conservative counterattacks.
First, they tried to blame it on the "liberal media." In a call to Geraldo Rivera on Fox News, Cain communications director J.D. Gordon dismissed the charges as "thinly sourced allegations" and defended Cain as one more "prominent conservative leader just targeted by liberals simply because they disagree with his politics." In media-speak, that's what we call a "non-denial." And Politico's never been accused of being part of the "liberal media."
Then they rushed to play the race card. The Cain campaign emailed supporters: "Don't let the media 'lynch' another black conservative." And commentator Ann Coulter actually argued that Politico would never have published their story about alleged sexual misconduct if Herman Cain had been a white man. Guess she forgot about John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Gary Hart, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, David Vitter, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Eliot Spitzer and Bob Packwood.
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Even those two lame excuses disappeared within 24 hours when Cain found another enemy to blame: primary opponent Rick Perry! Again, after initially insisting he had no recollection of being charged with sexual harassment, Cain suddenly remembered he had told Curt Anderson, consultant for his 2004 Georgia U.S. Senate race, all about it. And since Anderson now works for Rick Perry, Cain leaped to blame Anderson and the Perry campaign for leaking the original story to Politico. But only after, says Cain – are you ready for this? – they were prodded to do so by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Anderson denies it. So does the mayor. Perry, for his part, blames it all on Mitt Romney. How long before they all find some way to blame it on Barack Obama?
But the point is: Let Herman Cain play the blame game. No matter how many times he changes his story, in the end it doesn't matter who leaked the story to Politico. The only question is: What really happened at the National Restaurant Association? Who's telling the truth, Herman Cain or his accusers?
And there's only one way to find out: for the National Restaurant Association to release the records of its internal investigation. And, at the same time, to release its former employees of their legal obligation to remain silent.
After all, if Herman Cain has the right to go on national television and call them liars, surely the women involved have a right to tell their side of the story. Then we'll know who's really telling the truth.