I haven't got a clue what happened or didn't happen while Herman Cain was CEO of the National Restaurant Association. There appear to be fewer than a dozen people -- the two women and their lawyers, the general counsel and whoever produced the paperwork at the association, the people who wrote and signed the checks, and Herman Cain -- who do know, and as of this writing none of them are talking. So, let's put aside what, if anything, Cain did wrong.
But, I do know a lot about Combat Campaign Communications.
There is a saying in Washington: It's not the crime; it's the cover up. Even if there is no crime, shifting explanations make it look like the accused is putting up a smokescreen. The media will always gravitate to the conclusion that where there's smoke...
The first mistake the Cain campaign made was responding to the original story on the Politico.com website at shortly after 9 PM Sunday. The Twitter-verse exploded within seconds. The Associated Press referred to the Politico story about 45 minutes later.
Rule: There is no Constitutional requirement for a campaign to respond to a reporter's request, plea, demand, or appeal for a comment.
"But, I'm on DEADLINE!" does not equal a subpoena from a U.S. Attorney.
With caller ID a big-time campaign press secretary should be able to recognize the incoming number. The NY Times' always comes up a series of 1's. If the ID is blocked assume it's a reporter and don't press the green button on your Blackberry.
Rule: If you DO answer the phone, don't issue what, since Watergate, has been defined as a "non-denial-denial." That is, attempting to be too clever by half but not actually saying "that is a lie."
It is perfectly acceptable to say "I have no idea what you're talking about. I'll call you in the morning." Then, pretend the reporter is like your date from the night before and don't call in the morning because there is also no Constitutional restriction forbidding lying to a reporter. Or your date.
If there were, our parking problems in Washington, DC would be over.
Rule: While you are not returning the calls to all the reporters you lied to, ask the candidate what the hell this is all about. If he (or she) dissembles in any way, drop the campaign Blackberry and the keys to the campaign rental car; wipe the hard drive on your campaign laptop, and leave. Keep the campaign credit card. You'll need it to buy the plane ticket home.
You can cut it up on a YouTube video and mail back the pieces. It may get you a spot on the Bill Maher show.
Rule: If the candidate comes clean then get everyone with a stake in the deal in the office or on the phone - including the campaign's lawyer, finance chairman, manager, political director and the candidate's spouse.
He or she will resist calling the spouse, but it is unlikely the spouse will be on a six-month scientific expedition to the Laurentian Abyss and, so, is going to hear about this in the diary section at the Safeway in about 20 minutes.
Rule: 'Fess up. Decide on one formulation of the true story. Make everyone rehearse the true story and make dreadful threats to anyone who strays from the official, and true, story.
One of two things will happen: Either the candidate will ride out the event or he/she won't. You can't control that. But you have a much better chance at the former outcome if the candidate comes clean, the first time.
Cain finally remembered that there might have been an agreement with a staffer who got two or three months salary as a severance agreement.
Last night the New York Times reported one of the women got a year's pay: $35,000. That may not be Hedge Fund Manager money, but it was what she would have earned in a full year.
What you don't want to have happen is what Herman Cain has accomplished over the past 72 hours: Balancing his candidacy on parsing the difference between an "agreement" and a "settlement."
That will remind everyone of Bill Clinton balancing his presidency on the tip of what the "definition of 'is' is."
I don't care how good your candidate thinks he is. He or she is no Bill Clinton.