Report: Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Herman Cain

A story from Herman Cain's past is on the front page of Politico tonight.

Politico is out tonight with a story that is bound to cause headaches tomorrow for Herman Cain’s campaign for President:

During Herman Cain’s tenure as the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, at least two female employees complained to colleagues and senior association officials about inappropriate behavior by Cain, ultimately leaving their jobs at the trade group, multiple sources confirm to POLITICO.

The women complained of sexually suggestive behavior by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable, the sources said, and they signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts to leave the association. The agreements also included language that bars the women from talking about their departures.

In a series of comments over the past 10 days, Cain and his campaign repeatedly declined to respond directly about whether he ever faced allegations of sexual harassment at the restaurant association. They have also declined to address questions about specific reporting confirming that there were financial settlements in two cases in which women leveled complaints.

POLITICO has confirmed the identities of the two female restaurant association employees who complained about Cain but, for privacy concerns, is not publishing their names.

Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon told POLITICO the candidate indicated to campaign officials that he was “vaguely familiar” with the charges and that the restaurant association’s general counsel had resolved the matter.

The latest statement came from Cain himself. In a tense sidewalk encounter Sunday morning outside the Washington bureau of CBS News — where the Republican contender had just completed an interview on “Face the Nation” — Cain evaded a series of questions about sexual harassment allegations.

Cain said he has “had thousands of people working for me” at different businesses over the years and could not comment “until I see some facts or some concrete evidence.” His campaign staff was given the name of one woman who complained last week, and it was repeated to Cain on Sunday. He responded, “I am not going to comment on that.”

He was then asked, “Have you ever been accused, sir, in your life of harassment by a woman?”

He breathed audibly, glared at the reporter and stayed silent for several seconds. After the question was repeated three times, he responded by asking the reporter, “Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?”

Cain was president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association from late 1996 to mid-1999. POLITICO learned of the allegations against him, and over the course of several weeks, has put together accounts of what happened by talking to a lengthy roster of former board members, current and past staff and others familiar with the workings of the trade group at the time Cain was there.

There are four reporters on the byline that Politico posted tonight, indicating that at the very least that they invested considerable resources into investigating it, and it appears that at the very least there were allegations made, and a settlement was reached:

In one case, POLITICO has seen documentation describing the allegations and showing that the restaurant association formally resolved the matter. Both women received separation packages that were in the five-figure range.

On the details of Cain’s allegedly inappropriate behavior with the two women, POLITICO has a half-dozen sources shedding light on different aspects of the complaints.

The sources — which include the recollections of close associates and other documentation — describe episodes that left the women upset and offended. These incidents include conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature, taking place at hotels during conferences, at other officially sanctioned restaurant association events and at the association’s offices. There were also descriptions of physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship.

Peter Kilgore, who was the association’s general counsel in the 1990s, and remains in that position today, has declined to comment to POLITICO on whether any settlements existed, saying he cannot discuss personnel matters.

But one source closely familiar with Cain’s tenure in Washington confirmed that the claims related to allegations of sexual harassment – behavior that disturbed members of the board who became aware of it, as well as the source, who otherwise liked Cain.

“I happen to know there were sealed settlements reached in the plural. I think that anybody who thinks this was a one-time, one-person transgression would be mistaken,” this source said.

The first woman was identified to POLITICO by a former association board member and her identity was confirmed by two additional sources.

The former board member recalled learning of the woman’s departure at a 1999 association board meeting and trade expo in Chicago.

“She was offered a financial package to leave the association and she did,” said the former board member. “What I took offense at was that it was clear that rather than deal with the issue, there was an effort to hush it up. She was offered a way out to keep quiet.”

To be fair to Cain, allegations of this sort can be made and settlements can be reached on the advice on corporate counsel even if the question of fault is ambiguous. Nonetheless, this is a heavily-sourced story that is likely to be the biggest thing Herman Cain deals with this week, perhaps the most significant event of  his entire campaign.

More to come, I’m sure.

Update: Byron York shares a press statement released by the Cain campaign:

Inside the Beltway media attacks Cain

Fearing the message of Herman Cain who is shaking up the political landscape in Washington, Inside the Beltway media have begun to launch unsubstantiated personal attacks on Cain.

Dredging up thinly sourced allegations stemming from Mr. Cain’s tenure as the Chief Executive Officer at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, political trade press are now casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts.

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.

Sadly, we’ve seen this movie played out before – a prominent Conservative targeted by liberals simply because they disagree with his politics.

Mr. Cain — and all Americans, deserve better.

So, there you have it. An attack-the-messenger response that is likely to resonate with many conservatives. That said, if there is substance to the details behind the Politico report, a response like this isn’t going to be enough. Tomorrow, as York reports, Cain will be speaking at the National Press Club and taking questions. We can assume that the questions will not be related to 9-9-9 or abortion.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Console says:

    The bitch set me up!

    Wait a second, wrong side.

    This is a high tech lynching!

  2. WR says:

    It’s fun to attack the “inside the beltway media” — and let’s face it, Politico is essentially a tool of the Republican establishment — but, boy, a simple “no, I didn’t” would be a lot more convincing.

    And yet, nowhere in that lovely statement is there a denial of the accusations.

  3. Jacques says:

    Even if correct, that is over 20 years ago. If you had done more exact vetting on President Obama he may not be president today and our Constitution wouldn’t have been raped.

    If you think that 20 years is like couple years… you already had 3 years of Obama, then you deserve another 4 years of Obama and unsubscribe me immediately.

    Thank you.

  4. @Jacques:

    The story is, now, out there. What weight voters give to it is up to them. That’s how these things work.

  5. Jeff Sexton says:

    If these are truly “unsubstantiated” and “casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts”, I fully expect Herman to file a lawsuit as soon as Court opens for business tomorrow morning.

    Or will he wait until after the election is (long) over, like a certain former Ga Governor candidate did? Here’s a tip for Mr. Cain: That guy wound up with 2.5% of the vote…

  6. gVOR08 says:

    I hate to see this stuff. I hate to see the press make a big deal out of old stuff of unknowable validity. I hate that someone in the position Cain was in may well have done what’s alleged. I hate that, like the Strauss-Kahn thing, everybody will immediately take a side and sincerely believe that they know things they can’t possibly know. I hate that major political decisions will hinge on this stuff. It would be better if Cain fell over policy.

    On the other hand, it’ll be fun watching people accuse Politico of liberal bias.

  7. @gVOR08:

    If nothing else, this will give the French and Italians another excuse to laugh at us

  8. doubter4444 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    So wait a minute – you respond to the troll on the one hand and not a word about “raping” the constitution?
    Come on, the dude was offensively over the top – I don’t condone that type of comment about the president – D or R. Do you?

  9. Pete says:

    Oh the joy of politics. Maybe it’s payback time for Bubba’s persecution. Frankly, who cares? Or, This is likely the work of the Rockefeller arm of the GOP.

  10. Thomas says:

    Sorry, I do not buy “allegations”, particularly those made 15 years ago, as evidence of character misconduct. It is the worst kind of smearing. This applies if an attack is made of this kind against the President or any other human being.

    I despise Herman Cain…but for his views. This is just garbage. The civil libertarian in me cringes when the media advances stories like this. Look, people can lose their reputations on a dime based on the allegations of a disgruntled person. And in this age of the internet, look how hard it is to remove any potential damage from published rumors. Look at the Duke Lacrosse players accused of rape several years ago. That case turned out to be a hoax manufactured by an accuser with a shady past. However, the names of those three players in any google search years from now will be associated as “accused rapists”.

    Liberals, conservatives, anybody, be careful with these stories. Innocent people have been harmed in the past with rumor and innuendo like this

  11. Ron Beasley says:

    The news here is that the Republican hit machine is willing to use this on one of it’s own.

  12. JKB says:

    Interesting, another conservative black man considered for high office getting hit with old sexual harassment allegations.

    Saying they have a lot of sources and putting a lot of “journalists” on it, doesn’t give the story credence. They’ll have to name some of them at least, produce the documents or something. Or have you missed the complete fabrications and lies that have become the stock and trade of “journalism”. But it is good to see the media have found a hobby given they couldn’t be bothered to look into Obama’s background.

  13. James H says:

    At least this story — unlike the Post‘s Rubio and Perry “scandals” — is actually substantive.

  14. Ron Beasley says:

    While I agree it probably happens I think sexual harassment charges are exaggerated and abused. I like every other human am a primate and primates are touchy animals. A few years ago I had a female supervisor who had a medical event and was absent for a few weeks. I acted as supervisor while she was gone. On the day she returned I gave her a hug. Shortly there after I was called into the managers office and reprimanded for that hug. My supervisor went to the manager and said she appreciated the hug and had no objection, in fact she appreciated it. We were both called into the managers office along with a corporate attorney who basically told us that being a primate was not acceptable. It sucks to be a naked ape!

  15. Terry Ott says:

    Amen. And thank you.

    To others: cannot we just wait and see how this plays out? I mean, really, is it so urgent that you have to weigh in with theories and assumptions today?

  16. Terry Ott says:

    @Ron Beasley: @Ron Beasley:

    I wanted to add, Ron, that it COULD have played out differently. Say you had not gone to the manager’s office for the discussion of your hug. And a year later the woman was fired. At that point your innocent act might be weaved together with other insignificant events or comments that would enable a lawyer to present the picture of an anti-feminist snake pit where her mental state was one of fear and insecurity — causing whatever performance shortfalls may have (allegedly) led to her dismissal.

    In 30 years of HR and HR consulting, I’ve seen it all!

  17. marion danna says:

    JUst the same old stuff, Women using their gender and the system to ruin sometime innoscent people to make a fast buck with no work. all the laws are in their favor, if a male gets acused, he is gone, on just a females word. We need to turn this around the other way and see how they like it! Been going on forever! These girls like those fast payoffs, especially if they hold a grudge against a male friend and cant get their way! some of these are warrented, but its the same evil in both sexes and the women are favored!

  18. anjin-san says:

    This is likely the work of the Rockefeller arm of the GOP

    If I had a nickel for every time a conservative has played the victim card I would own the world.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    Two reactions:

    1) Hah! Could this GOP clown show get any weirder?

    2) I’d hate to be judged by stupid things I did in the distant past.

  20. G.A.Phillips says:

    Nonetheless, this is a heavily-sourced story

    Come on!!!!

  21. sam says:


    This is likely the work of the Rockefeller arm of the GOP

    The what? Very droll.

  22. Jim Treacher says:

    Four reporters. Zero specifics.

  23. sam says:


    unsubscribe me immediately

    Der Tipoff that this was political spam.

  24. sam says:

    @Jim Treacher:

    Four reporters. Zero specifics.

    What’s unspecific about this?

    In one case, POLITICO has seen documentation describing the allegations and showing that the restaurant association formally resolved the matter. Both women received separation packages that were in the five-figure range.

  25. Rick Almeida says:

    @marion danna:

    Not a big fan of the ladies, are you, Trebek?

  26. Rob in CT says:

    Based on what I’ve been seeing from the GOP base, this should help Cain.

  27. Jim Treacher says:

    @sam: So what you’re saying is that you don’t know what the word “specific” means.

  28. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Rob in CT:


  29. sam says:

    @Jim Treacher:

    @sam: So what you’re saying is that you don’t know what the word “specific” means.

    Not at all. I asked you about this:

    In one case, POLITICO has seen documentation describing the allegations and showing that the restaurant association formally resolved the matter. Both women received separation packages that were in the five-figure range.

    Can you tell us why such documentation would not specific?

  30. Jim Treacher says:

    @sam: Um, the lack of specifics? See, it’s a word with a definition that’s, well… specific.

  31. EddieInCA says:

    seen – specific
    documentation – specific
    describing – specific
    restaurant association – specific
    resolved – specific
    Both women – specific
    received separation packages – specific
    five-figure range – specific

    As a character once said, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

  32. Jim Treacher says:

    @EddieInCA: Which women? Which documentation? What amounts? What actually happened? Is that too specific for you?

  33. Rick Almeida says:

    @Jim Treacher:

    Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of Herman Cain?

    Politico knows.

  34. Jim Treacher says:

    @Rick Almeida: …but they’re not telling.

  35. matt b says:

    First of all, anyone who think that this is just “the press” rather than Cain’s political opponents providing the press with this information are being naive. This has most likely emerged from either Romney or Perry’s camp (I’d bet the latter as Cain is far less of a threat to Romney). The investigative work necessary to initially uncover this stuff requires far more $’s than the politico has for doing background work.

    On and JKB:

    @Interesting, another conservative black man considered for high office getting hit with old sexual harassment allegations.

    Right… as if Democratic politicians never have been accused of sex issues… Or impeached on sex issues… this is completely about trying to take down a black man.

  36. Jeremy says:


    Ahem. They do not say any details about the documentation. It is not specific. They do not give any details about the women. It is not specific. There is no detailed description, either, and “five-figure range” is very unspecific–the fact that you even said that it was means you don’t really understand the word.

    What we are looking for here are details, so we can independently verify it. I think that’s a bit too much to ask, honestly, at this point of the story, but Jim is totally justified in saying that there aren’t any specifics. It’s actually quite vague: “Well, we’ve seen some documents saying some women accused Cain of sexual harassment.” Um, okay. How do we know that you’re not making that up?

    As a disclaimer, I am not a Herman Cain supporter. I’m not even saying that this stuff is all fake; there is probably some truth to it. But I really get annoyed when people state blatantly unintelligent assertions and then pretend they make sense. They don’t.

  37. MBunge says:

    Unless Cain either physically groped a woman or said “sleep with me or else”, I suspect the general public is going to care far less about these allegations than our nation’s elite. Our elite’s sensitivies go completely berserk when they’re dealing with someone who’s not part of their village, which includes even a rich and successful corporate CEO like Cain.


  38. Anderson says:

    If I were asked whether I’ve ever sexually harassed anyone, I would be able to answer “no” quickly and accurately.

    … OTOH, I’m reading a biography of David Lloyd George, who was nicknamed “the Goat” for his sexual promiscuity, who basically nailed any skirt who didn’t say “no,” and who all but literally had two wives for the last 25 or 30 years of his life, including while he was prime minister. Whatever his flaws as a politician and statesman, it’s not obvious that the public interest would’ve been served by running him out as a shameless horndog.

  39. Jim Treacher says:

    @Anderson: That’s not what he was asked.

  40. Anderson says:

    Uh, close enough, Mr. Treacher:

    He was then asked, “Have you ever been accused, sir, in your life of harassment by a woman?”

    Unless the idea is whether he was accused of being harassed by a woman. To which all married men can plead guilty. But in context, I think something else was meant.

  41. Moosebreath says:


    “What we are looking for here are details, so we can independently verify it.”

    Let’s say the story cited a Jane Smith, from Springfield, East Dakota, who was paid $50,000. How do you plan to independently verify it? We are all dependent upon the press to do the legwork on a story like this.

  42. matt b says:

    @Moosebreath: Sadly, in turn, the press — in a story like this — are very much dependent upon Cain’s rivals to do that work for them.

  43. Jim Treacher says:

    @Anderson: Uh, no, it’s not close enough. “Have you ever been accused of [fill in the blank]?” is not “Have you ever committed [fill in the blank]?” Which I suspect you’d be more amenable to, if Cain were a Democrat.

  44. Moosebreath says:

    matt b,

    More so now than in the past, but yes.

  45. Nick says:

    “[D]redging this up now is merely part of a smear campaign meant to discredit a true patriot….”

    Cain’s VP of Communications.

    Played the “Patriot” card. Why are right wingers such suckers for that ploy?

  46. Nick says:

    Anyone who thinks Democrats are behind this is kidding himself. Liberals would like nothing better than to run against Cain.; he would be an easy win for Obama.

    This was a Republican play, through a media outlet friendly to Republicans. Early indications suggest this might be the result of Perry’s oppo research.

  47. Nick says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    Ron is spot on. The news here is this is a Republican hit job.

  48. Jim Treacher says:

    @Nick: “Liberals would like nothing better than to run against Cain.; he would be an easy win for Obama.”

    A black guy with no political experience? How could he win against OBAMA?

  49. Charlie says:

    @Ron Beasley:
    There are many stories like that. Maybe your situation would’ve been different if someone told her she could get a lot of money or a promotion out of it by saying that she was indeed offended.

  50. Drew says:

    This gives me great concern about Cain. Maybe he’s not as smart as I thought.

    If he’d had the two chicks lubin’ his goober and spilled his essence on a blue dress he coulda gotten at least 6 points in the polls……..

  51. John425 says:

    Would Politico ever have published this piece of crap if the “unnamed sources” made such a charge against then-candidate Obama? No? I didn’t think so.

  52. sam says:


    Would Politico ever have published this piece of crap

    See, the problem, John, is this (via Josh Marshall):

    1. Politico allegations are false. Story is crap.

    2. Yes, there were allegations. But they were false.

    3. Yes there were allegations that were false and I don’t know what money was paid.

    4. I don’t know whether money was paid. And it would be wrong for me to find out whether money was paid because it’s confidential.

    5. There was a in-depth investigation. And I was cleared. But I don’t know anything about it.

    6. Here’s the gesture that led to my getting accused of harassment.

    7. Okay, I remember some discussion of a settlement number.

    And all this in the first 12 hours. Jeez, what’s tomorrow gonna be like?