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Did Herman Cain Just Contradict Himself On The Sexual Harrasment Story?

Just hours after repeating before the National Press Club that he was not aware of any settlement between the National Restaurant Association and the women who allegedly accused him of sexual harassment, Herman Cain sat down for an interview with Greta Van Susterin and appeared to tell a different story:

Cain told van Susteren that he remembered one woman who was a writer in the Association’s communications department.  “I can’t even remember her name, but I do remember the formal allegation she made in terms of sexual harassment,” Cain said.  “I turned it over to my general counsel and one of the ladies that worked for me, the woman in charge of human resources.  They did investigate…and it was found to be baseless.”

Van Susteren asked Cain how often he saw the woman.  “I might see her in the office because her office was on the same floor as my office,” Cain said.  Van Susteren asked whether the woman traveled with Cain, who spent a lot of time on the road speaking to restaurant associations around the country.  “No, never,” Cain said.

Cain said the woman was “younger than I was,” but he could not recall her age.  Pressed, he said, “It would have had to have been late 30s, early 40s.”

Van Susteren asked what Cain did that led to the accusation.  There were reportedly more than one accusations in the complaint, but Cain said he recalled just one incident.  “She was in my office one day, and I made a gesture saying — and I was standing close to her — and I made a gesture saying you are the same height as my wife.  And I brought my hand up to my chin saying, ‘My wife comes up to my chin.'”  At that point, Cain gestured with his flattened palm near his chin.  “And that was put in there [the complaint] as something that made her uncomfortable,” Cain said, “something that was in the sexual harassment charge.”

Van Susteren asked whether the woman complained at the time.  “I can’t recall any comment that she made, positive or negative.”

Cain also offered new information about the settlement of the case.  Politico, which broke the sexual harassment allegation story, said that the woman received a money settlement “in the five-figure range.”  When van Susteren asked about that, 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.

It’s a simple question, really. Either Cain knew about the settlement or he didn’t. This morning and this afternoon he said he didn’t. Tonight, on Fox News Channel he is basically going to say that he did, which makes sense given the fact that he was the CEO of the NRA. I doubt that van Susterin will point out the seeming contradiction, she simply isn’t that good of a journalist and Fox News is friendly territory for Cain. Nonetheless, everyone else is going to notice it. And Cain is going to have to explain this all over again.

This is a trap that many politicians fall into. Rather than getting the whole story, and the truth, out at once, it comes out in dribs and drabs, and you end up starting to contradict the earlier vigorous denials that you made when the story first broke. At that point, the story no longer becomes the underlying allegations, but the way the campaign, and the candidate reacted to it, and the perception of a cover-up.

Personally, I don’t know that the question of what Cain knew about the settlement and when he knew it is all that important, but it’s a data point in the story and it guarantees that this will be at least a two-day story. Will it hurt Cain in the GOP primaries? Who knows? Turning him into a guy being chased by the media might actually help him here, and it honestly doesn’t seem like anything that he’s being accused of here is something that should disqualify him from office. Nonetheless, these rolling disclosures and seeming contradictions are not helping Cain at all.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. EddieInCA says:

    Did Herman Cain Just Contradict Himself On The Sexual Harrasment Story?

    Yes. Next question.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  2. Nick says:

    You think that someone who has committed sexual harassment at least twice should not be disqualified from office?

    That’s what he’s being accused of. (Mataconis: “[I]t honestly doesn’t seem like anything that he’s being accused of here is something that should disqualify him from office.”).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  3. At most, he’s being accused of conduct that created the perception of a hostile work environment. This is not a crime. And, it happened 20 years ago. I don’t support Herman Cain, but there isn’t anything here that outrages me all that much based on the facts available

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. legion says:

    @Nick: I gotta go with Doug on this one – reports are suggesting 1 or more settlements did occur, but that they were in the “5-figure” range… that’s pretty low for a sustainable case. Now, the flip-flopping, jibber-jabbering, and overall hot mess Cain is making with his multiple explanations of the issues are likely to make him look much less competent and electable than the actual original cases…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  5. WR says:

    I agree that the accusations aren’t disqualifying, but I don’t understand why he couldn’t simply say “There were a couple of accusations. I felt they were wrong and wanted to fight, but the NRA’s lawyers felt it would be easier and ultimately cheaper to settle. And despite the fact that I still say I did nothing wrong, I am now and always have been sorry for any pain these women felt.”

    Wow, story’s over in five seconds.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  6. lou91940 says:

    I like the way Cain belittles the charges. I’ve seen it before. ” I can’t remember her name,” “Maybe three months’ salary. I don’t remember. It might have been two months,” ” “I might see her in the office because her office was on the same floor as my office,” “I am totally unaware as to any formal charges coming from this other person.” “I have no knowledge that she made a formal complaint.”

    Every comment is made to minimize his knowledge, payments made or contact with the other persons involved. Every comment attempts to belittle what was probably a very delicate situation.

    Unless he was blind, deaf and dumb….he knows every detail of what was going on. Denial is standard operating procedures, ask O’Reilly, or Clinton or the several dozen others in the news with a wide stance or hand in or up the “cookie” jar.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  7. @WR:

    As with many of these stories, what undoes the candidate may not be the alleged wrongdoing, but the response to the allegations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  8. grumpy realist says:

    The trouble is, this sounds like every other “no, no it didn’t happen” “well, yes, it did happen but I kept my eyes closed/didn’t inhale/whatever” progression.

    And the fact that Cain had ten days to prepare for this and is falling all over his feet on the response doesn’t help.

    How in the hell this guy was supposedly a successful CEO is beyond me. EVERYONE knows that when the bad stuff hits, you get it out quick, you get it out fast, and you come up with a damn good explanation and apologies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. Nick says:

    @legion:

    My question is whether the accusations, if true, serve to disqualify Cain (or anyone else) from serving in elected office. I took that fact pattern to be the premise of Mataconis’ assertion to the contrary.

    Note that ‘disqualified’ is not the same as ‘barred’. In his response, Mataconis seems to suggest that since it’s not a crime, and since at worst Cain abused his position to create “a hostile work environment”, that should not disqualify him from serving office.

    I disagree. I think that people who abuse their power for personal gain are, at least from my standpoint, disqualified from holding office, at least insofar as my vote is concerned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. A voice from another precinct says:

    What we will get to see here is the GOP-right wing version of “charac ter matters.” Which turns out to be “not so much” when your talking about “my” candidate but all important when we’re talking about ‘yours.”

    We saw the same thing with the right involving Bristol Palin. Her pregnancy at 17 was identified as “see the Palins are just like any other American family with the same problems that we all have.” It’s all a question of whose ox is being gored.

    Did Cain sexually harrass those women? Don’t know, don’t care. He’s unqualified apart from this issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  11. legion says:

    @Nick: Your point is hard to argue against; therefore I shall not. But I will look on with interest at the folks who are willing to brush this aside (assuming it’s all true) and yet were frantically clutching at their pearls whenever Clinton’s indiscretions came up (puns unintended, but unavoidable).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Clovis says:

    @Nick:
    Serious question, Nick: Should Geniffer Flowers and and the others have disqualified Clinton in 92? Media outlets initially pooh-poohed those until it was all too apparent that Gov. Clinton had a serious problem.

    People seem to forget how common, and sometimes downright frivolous, sexual harassment claims were back then. They likely account for the current HR hell everyone has to deal with today. It was a very weird time.

    Doug: At first I thought Cain would come out with a “I asked Bob (or whoever was handling the complaint) at NRa what happened to that off-the-wall complaint thingy, and he said ‘It went nowhere, Herm. She left the Association’ which is why I didn’t recall it” which would be plausible. This is just being handled strangely.

    If Cain wants to keep going he needs to hire some slicker, or at least remotely on-the-ball, people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Nick says:

    @Clovis:

    Any person who abuses his or her power for personal gain, absent a showing that they have changed, should be disqualified from holding public office.

    That being said, Gennifer Flowers allegedly had a 12 year relationship with Bill Clinton. I don’t care what consenting adults do sexually; that’s their business.

    The issue raised in the Cain situation is abuse of power.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. Nick says:

    “For that matter, if the allegations against Cain are accurate, his career in politics should come to an abrupt end.”

    Steve Benen at Washington Monthly, contra Mataconis.

    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal/2011_11/flunking_crisis_management_101033202.php

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0