This situation appears to be spiraling beyond the Cain campaign's tenuous ability to mitigate it. Let's start with the "Blame Perry" reversal. Yesterday evening, top Cain deputy (and noted celebrity smoker) Mark Block appeared on Fox News' Special Report to demand an apology from the Perry campaign, which he accused of planting Politico's original sexual harassment story. Specifically, Block fingered a man named Curt Anderson -- who was an advisor to Cain's 2004 Senate campaign, and who now works with the Perry camp -- as the leaker. Block provided zero evidence to back up this claim, which Anderson promptly denied, on the record, to Politico.
As I pointed out yesterday, Politico obviously knows the identities of its own sources, so common sense dictates that their decision to print Anderson's denial was tantamount to an exoneration. Just to drive home the point, though, Anderson used a Fox News appearance earlier today to again vehemently deny being the source, during which he pointedly granted blanket permission to any journalist to out him as their source if he was the guilty party. Talk about full disclosure. Within minutes, Mark Block returned to Fox's airwaves and retreated from yesterday's charge -- less than 24 hours after leveling it, and after the Cain campaign solicited donations based upon it:
Let me see if I understand this properly. Block "stands behind" his accusation, but he's "thrilled" that the accused party has convincingly denied it. He then pledged to back off of his explicit comments about Anderson until he gathers "all the facts." Totally incoherent. It's becoming clear that Team Cain's crisis management strategy isn't just poorly conceived -- it's essentially nonexistent. Block went on television last night and threw a provocative theory up against the wall, hoping it would stick, and pretending it was fact. He went so far as to demand an apology from the man and the campaign he falsely -- or at least mistakenly -- accused. Perhaps he should have heeded his own (new) advice and waited for the facts to come in before going off half-cocked. Now that he's been called out on his tactics, he's quasi-apologized and tried to wash his hands of the entire episode. Again, this isn't some obscure Cain-linked supporter. Mark Block is Herman Cain's top strategist. This, ladies and gentlemen, is an unmitigated disaster. Even if every single allegation against Cain is 100% untrue, this grotesque misadventure in damage control and political preparedness continues to raise very troubling questions about Cain's capacity to preside over a functional presidential campaign. Recall for a moment that Cain had at least ten days, if not seventeen years, to get a handle on this situation. He never did, and here we are today.
But is every single allegation against Cain baseless? We still don't know for sure, but the smoke is getting thicker. Conservative outlet PJ Media has published a story that quotes two unnamed sources (is there any other sort in this saga?) adding more meat to the bones of the heretofore nebulous allegations against Cain:
Adding to the ongoing Herman Cain sexual harassment controversy, two sources have now confirmed to PJ Media that a female employee of the National Restaurant Association told associates she had been brought by Mr. Cain to his Crystal City, Virginia residence where she alleged “he had taken advantage of me.” One source, a male, told PJ Media: "Herman took advantage of seniority and power with a young woman. It was an abuse of power." Implying that coming forward with the accusations was an ordeal for the young woman, the source also said: "Who do you believe, a CEO or a mid-level staffer? It was unsettling for her to make charges."
The name of the woman — who was in her early twenties at the time of the alleged incident — has been confirmed by PJ Media. We have chosen not to reveal her identity for reasons of discretion. Both sources, one male and one female, worked at the time — mid-1990s — for the governmental affairs department of the National Restaurant Association, as did the woman. According to both sources, Mr. Cain and the woman had been with a large group for a long evening of food and drink at the Ciao Baby Cucina, a restaurant near NRA headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. This was a normal routine, as the trade association worked with the food and beverage industry. Afterwards, Mr. Cain allegedly took the woman by taxi to his apartment, where she spent the night and woke up in his bed. [*The story has now been updated to "clarify" that this woman awoke in Cain's room, not necessarily his bed, and that witnesses did not see the two entering a taxi together*].
The female source told PJ Media that she witnessed the woman entering a taxi with Herman Cain. Neither source has direct knowledge of what occurred at Mr. Cain’s residence, but several days after the alleged incident, the male source witnessed the woman returning to her workplace “distraught.” “She was very upset.”
That account raises more questions than it answers. It goes on to state that the young woman's family retained legal counsel and proceeded with an official complaint, which was eventually settled for $35,000. Politico is also now reporting that the second accuser received a $45,000 settlement, a dollar figure that eclipsed her annual salary. As we reported yesterday, there is also a third anonymous woman who now says she contemplated filing a sexual harassment complaint against Cain in the 1990s. All three women's identities are unknown, and nearly every hostile quote about the controversy has originated from unnamed sources. Nearly every one. A conservative Iowa radio host has gone public with accusations that Cain behaved inappropriately toward several female members of his staff, and a Republican pollster who worked for the NRA in the 1990's has said on the record that he personally witnessed the acts in question, and believes Cains's campaign would collapse if the details surface.
Does all, or even any, of that information mean Herman Cain is guilty of anything? Absolutely not. As I've said before, my impulse has been to give Cain the benefit of the doubt throughout this whole ordeal. The anonymity of most of the sourcing, the dearth of details, the corrections, etc. all fuel my reluctance to rush to judgment. That being said, it is becoming incrementally more difficult to assume that Cain is entirely in the clear. But that's a subjective view, and his possible personal and moral issues are his business. His potential political problem is that he's now clearly stated on the record that he did not sexually harass anyone, ever. If -- if-- this steady drip of unsubstantiated information eventually bursts like a geyser, his personal credibility, which may be his most potent asset, will disintegrate. Very few people are actively hoping for that to happen, but it's fair to say that there is more cause for concern on that front than there was on Monday. I'll leave you with this quote from Cain, from a conference call in March:
I'd argue that two relatively low settlements for alleged, but never definitively proven, sexual harassment complaints are not "skeletons" in one's closet. Nevertheless, this is the standard Cain has constructed for himself. Cain's supporters and friends certainly those words -- and his assertions in recent interviews -- don't come back to haunt him.
UPDATE - The Cain campaign has apparently taken in $1.2 million since the initial Politico story broke. Earnest question: Are Cain supporters at all worried about these allegations or the campaign's response to them?
UPDATE II - One of Cain's accusers is maneuvering to have her say, maybe as soon as tomorrow.