Guy Benson

These are nothing more than allegations at the moment; let's not rush to judgment until all the facts are in.  Politico's potential bombshell dropped late Sunday evening:
 

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.


The Cain camp's initial response:
 

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.


And from the candidate himself:
 

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?


The lengthy article includes details of the alleged harassment, as well as quotes from former colleagues -- male and female -- who insist that the accusations are totally out of character for the man they know and admire:
 

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.

...[Joseph] Fassler – who ran a Phoenix food-service company and finished his term as chairman the month before Cain’s June 1999 departure but remained on the board’s executive committee – described Cain as treating men and women identically and asserted it was “not within his character” to make unwanted advances. “It’s not what I know of him,” Fassler said.  Much like Fassler, almost all board members remember Cain fondly and say he left on good terms.

Cain was “extremely professional” and “fair” to female staffers at the restaurant association, recalled Lee Ellen Hayes, who said she “worked fairly closely with” Cain in the late 1990s, when she was an executive at the National Restaurant Association Education Fund, a Chicago-based offshoot of the group.  Cain’s treatment of women was “the same as his treatment of men. Herman treated everyone great,” said Mary Ann Cricchio, who was elected to the board of the restaurant group in 1998. She said Cain left such a good impression on the organization that when he spoke at a group event in January of this year, as he was considering a presidential bid, “he had unanimous support in the room.”


Again, these are allegations about years-old accusations -- the precise nature of which are unclear.  "Suggestive" is a rather subjective term, as is the interpretation of gestures that "were not overtly sexual." The women who say they were harassed apparently received substantial pay-outs to leave the association quietly and signed confidentiality agreements.  We have no idea what did or did not happen, and accusers can always have ulterior motives.  We do know that no one is seeming to suggest that Cain actually did anything untoward; only that he may have made two female subordinates feel uncomfortable through his words and body language.  The name Anita Hill has cropped up in much of the early Twitter buzz about this story, and there are striking similarities:  Both cases involve high-profile, politically-timed accusations of workplace sexual harassment against a controversial and ascendant African-American conservative.  One big difference?  Anita Hill personally came forward with her story -- regardless of its dubious veracity.  Absent a more definitive statement or denial, we don't yet know how Cain and his campaign will choose to handle this.  At the moment, the entire story boils down to a third-party he-said/she-said, in which the "he" hasn't commented on the substance of the allegations, and the "she(s)" are anonymous.  Is this a genuine scandal, or a trumped up piece of salacious gossip?  Proceed with caution.
 

UPDATE - Byron York has more on Team Cain's early response.
 

UPDATE II - In this 2,000 word story, there is not a single on-the-record quote from an accuser.  All of the "sources" making or corroborating the allegations of impropriety are unnamed.  Conversely, all of the people defending Cain's reputation and character do so publicly.  Consider that, for what it's worth.
 

UPDATE III - Hmmm:
 


UPDATE IV: The most definitive denial yet:
 

"Herman Cain has never sexually-harassed anybody. Period. End of story."


Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography