Here is the video of today's explosive New York press conference in which a Chicagoan named Sharon Bialek leveled disturbing charges of sexual harassment against Presidential candidate Herman Cain:
Here is the key quote:
At that time I had on a black pleated skirt, a suit jacket and a blouse. He had on a suit with his shirt open. But instead of going into the offices, he suddenly reached over and he put his hand on my leg under my skirt and reached for my genitals. He also grabbed my head and brought it towards his crotch. I was very, very surprised and very shocked. I said, “What are you doing? You know I have a boyfriend. This isn’t what I came here for.” Mr. Cain said, ‘You want a job, right?’ I asked him to stop, and he did. I asked him to take me back to my hotel, which he did right away.
Cain's campaign issued an immediate denial:
Just as the country finally begins to refocus on our crippling $15 trillion national debt and the unacceptably high unemployment rate, now activist celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred is bringing forth more false accusations against the character of Republican front-runner Herman Cain. All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false. Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone. Fortunately the American people will not allow Mr. Cain’s bold “9-9-9 Plan”, clear foreign policy vision and plans for energy independence to be overshadowed by these bogus attacks.
This is now officially a he-said/she-said between Cain and a named accuser making non-vague accusations. So much for getting back "on message." For what it's worth, the lawyer for one of Cain's other alleged victims now says Bialek described a scenario "very similar" to what his client experienced, in the same general time frame. Back to the presser itself: As expected, Gloria Allred's introductory statement was preening and obnoxious (complete with a crass "stimulus package" joke), but the only relevant question is whether the Bialek herself is credible. A few points. (1) At least in my book, Bialek's judgment takes an immediate hit right out of the gate, based on the legal representation she's chosen to retain. But poor taste in attorneys does not necessarily reflect on one's veracity -- so dismissing her story based solely on that would be, as Jim Geraghty points out, a non-sequitur. (2) Another complicating factor here is that Bialek purports to be a Tea Party Republican. (Allred said her client is a "registered Republican," but I seem to recall that Illinois doesn't have party registration). I'd argue that Bialek did not come off as an embittered lefty, which bolsters her credibility, at least to some degree. She repeatedly praised Cain's "infectious" and "inspirational" speaking style and described the admiration she once felt for him. That didn't sound forced to me, but it's tough to tell. (3) Crucially, Bialek made several falsifiable claims during her statement. These will either corroborate her version of events, or call them into question. For example, did Herman Cain intervene to upgrade her hotel suite in 1997? Does the Capital Hilton have those records? Did Bialek attend the grassroots conservative gathering in Chicagoland where she claimed to have had an awkward "remember me?" encounter with the candidate (and in which Katie and I both participated) earlier this fall? Also, the fact that she has sworn statements from two people backing up her assertion that she informed them of Cain's alleged behavior in the immediate aftermath of the incident strikes me as not insignificant. (4) If Bialek's decision to speak publicly encourages other alleged victims to come forward on the record, the anecdotal evidence against Cain could reach a critical mass at some point.
My biggest beef with the Politico and AP stories was that they contained neither named accusers, nor detailed descriptions of the alleged offending behavior. Bialek now provides both. She says she didn't file harassment complaints against Cain because she was no longer an employee at the NRA when the encounter took place. Some legally-minded folks are suggesting that what Cain supposedly did -- if true -- may have constituted misdemeanor sexual assault (the statute of limitations would have long since expired, incidentally). If that's accurate, why didn't Bialek report the incident to police? Perhaps she felt that because Cain cut off his advances when she asked him to stop, it wasn't a criminal act. Who knows? Maybe she's just lying. Word is that Bialek and Allred will appear on Piers Morgan tonight, and several morning shows tomorrow, where she'll (presumably) be grilled on her recollection of what happened. Cain's camp is sticking to its "nothing happened" defense, although you'd better believe this mess will come up at Wednesday's GOP debate in Michigan. Sad to say, this isn't over. Not by a long shot.
UPDATE I - At least one (relatively small) element of Bialek's story has checked out. Breitbart's Big Government confirms that she did, in fact, attend TeaCon in early October, and that she's a Republican.
UPDATE II - Cain has released a blistering attack on the media's priorities. He's absolutely right on a number of points, but the essay does not specifically deny Bialek's allegations. In fact, it reads like it was written before she made her statement. He also wrote this:
So once the editors of Politico started looking for people who would make claims against me, their chances of finding a few takers were probably about 100 percent. These people will not give their names. The so-called “witnesses” who purportedly corroborated their stories also will not give their names.
The whole "they're all anonymous" line of defense kind of became inoperative as of this afternoon. And that last bolded sentence seems to ignore the comments of Chris Wilson, a Republican pollster who has gone on-record saying that he witnessed some of Cain's behavior, the full extent of which would end his campaign if revealed. None of this proves a damn thing, of course, except that Team Cain's not-so-rapid response has been a complete trainwreck.