The Cain Harassment Plot Thickens, a Little

Posted: Nov 01, 2011 9:08 AM

Last night, Herman Cain appeared on PBS and Greta Van Susteren's Fox show to further address the now-familiar sexual harassment report from Politico.  Even as Cain makes his push-back rounds, we still don't know who his "victims" are, who the sources of Politico's information may be, or what Cain is even accused of actually doing or saying.  Since Politico seems intent on protecting all of this information out of "sensitivity" to the parties involved (except for Cain, of course), the candidate himself has become the only person willing to break new ground on this story.  And break new ground he has.  Here's Cain explaining what "not overtly sexual" gesture may have prompted one of the complaints:

Is that it?  Really?  We have no way of knowing because Cain's accusers are all anonymous, and Politico is clamping down -- so for now, Cain's account is the only show in town.  Until some definitive proof emerges to the contrary, there's no immediate reason to doubt Cain on this one, especially since he left himself a little wiggle room with his "eye of the beholder" caveat.  However, one significant element of Cain's spirited self-defense with Jenna Lee yesterday morning has since entered murky territory.  He initially said if a monetary settlement had been reached with either of the women, "I am not -- I wasn't even aware of it, and I hope it wasn't for much."  That was around 11:30 am ET.  A few hours later, when Cain taped his sit-down with Greta, he said this:

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."

That's a far cry from his previous answer, which flatly stated that he didn't know the settlement had even occurred, let alone its price tag.  Of course, it's possible that Cain's team had briefed him on more details in the interim (read this excellent report from NRO's Robert Costa for a window into Cain's world yesterday), but how does that square with Politico's revelation that they first contacted Cain's campaign about this story over a week ago?  The original Politico story even quoted a Cain spokesman as saying that the issue had long since been "resolved," which indicates that Cain may not have been completely in the dark.  It's hard to say.  Is it conceivable that Cain was completely unaware of even the fact that settlements had been reached in the first place?  Philip Klein posed that question to sexual harassment litigators.  Their verdict:  It's possible that Cain had no clue, but it's unlikely.  Cain's minor amendments to his story lend credence to that opinion.

At this point, I'm inclined to give Cain the benefit of almost every doubt related to this imbroglio.  His accusers are hiding in the shadows of anonymity, and the news organization that broke the story won't even report his alleged misdeeds.  If nothing else, Cain strikes like a man of character, and I'm not interested in being taken for a ride by the mainstream media in the absence of meaningful proof to the contrary.  It's entirely plausible that he may have botched his answers about a few hazy recollections on a long-dormant controversy.  He's human.  What's troubling from a political standpoint is that the Cain campaign was aware that this story was coming ten days before it ran.  Even a minimally competent political team would have outlined a specific strategy to lock down the narrative as soon as the piece dropped. Instead, Team Cain bobbled the ball badly on Sunday night, then allowed their principal to shift his story throughout Monday's news cycle.  This was distressingly amateurish.  Cain may be loyal to his inner circle, many of whom are wonderful and bright people, but his team's broader response to this mini-tempest does not bode well for future crisis management situations.  Is this crew ready to face the Obama/DNC slash and burn Billion-dollar machine?  That's not an attack on Cain as a man, but it is absolutely a question that Republican primary voters should be asking themselves.