Herman Cain sexual harassment allegations: Is he done as a contender?

Oct 31, 2011

Herman Cain is addressing allegations that he sexually harassed two former employees while head of the National Restaurant Association.

How do you think these allegations will affect Cain's chances to win the republican presidential nomination?

Discuss the state of the Cain campaign with Aaron Blake of The Fix blog Monday at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Read more:

Cain: 'I have never sexually harassed anyone'

Aide: Cain never harassed anyone

THE FIX: How bad are allegations for Cain?

Who gains if Cain loses?

Hey everyone. Welcome to the chat.

Let's get right to it...

How credible is it that the National Restaurant Association would reach two separate harassment agreements and not tell Cain about either - as he seems to be implying?

This is the big question for Cain. But right now, it's not clear that we'll ever know.

Given the reporting that the women signed documents saying they wouldn't talk about it, it's hard to see where the next shoe-drop comes in.

But your question is the first one that I asked when Cain acknowledged the accusations but said he was unaware of the settlements. After all, wouldn't YOU want to know what happened when someone accused you of something like that?

Was the Post wise to this story? Does the Post know the names of the two women? I think more information about them might make it easier to decide who to believe.

I do know that other news organizations have been chasing this story, but Politico deliberately withheld the names of the women, and most reputable media outlets have policies under which they withhold the names of the accusers when it comes to sexual harrassment.

That said, we live in a day and age in which the names could very well see the light of day anyways. Not all forms of media have the same qualms about protecting the accusers. So we'll se...

Too many un-sourced sources. These scandals usually gain traction when there's a face or name you can attach to said scandal. If Cain is savvy, he can spin this as proof he's an anti-estab. conservative.

Agreed. While we in the media can have complete faith in our anonymous sources, it really comes down to how much faith the reader has in them. And if the reader is predisposed to believe Herman Cain, they will probably believe him over some nameless, faceless accuser.

We've already seen Cain trying to flip this around, including calling it a "witch hunt" during an appearance at the National Press Club just an hour ago. That's a smart strategy.

The Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel broke the real story about Cain's campaign finance irregularities. Thoughts?

This is a little off-topic, but for those interested, here is the original story and the Post's story.

Since the two people who allegedly filed the sexual harassment complaint signed a confidentiallity agreement, isn't Cain off the hook? They can't talk, so all he has to do is say that they lied, correct?

Correct; they can't talk. But it seems that there are other people who were aware of the situation, and they appear to be talking.

The question now is whether those sources can prove that Cain actually knew about the settlements. If they can't, and there aren't any more shoes that drop, the story loses its momentum.

I'm going to use that tactic the next time I get investigated for a security clearance. "Why don't YOU tell me if you've ever tried to overthrow the US government"

For those who haven't seen the video, it's worth a look: http://bcove.me/asqwdkds. When Politico's Jonathan Martin asked Cain about the allegations, Cain's response was to ask Martin whether HE has been accused of sexual harrassment.

For the record: Jonathan is a very nice guy, and we have a hard time believing that he would ever be accused of anything like that.

Still, a very odd response. You could tell that Cain was having a tough time figuring out how to respond.

Well, the smartness of Cain's Press Club strategy depends quite a bit on its truthiness. But there's no doubt it's bold. By denying the allegations, he's stretched out his neck on the chopping block. And by denying them publicly, isn't he risking the women going public on the grounds that he violated the hush agreement first?

I'm no lawyer, but I'm not sure that anything Cain has done would void any agreement. After all, he says he doesn't even know about any agreement, so that would suggest he's not party to it and didn't sign anything.

Granted, anyone can make an allegation and Cain is entitiled to make the case that he did not harass these former co-workers, but what's more than a tad surprising is the fact that his campaign apparently knew that Politico was working on the story for nearly 10 days and they neither - a) tried to get out in front of it or b) had the candidate prepared with a stock response to the allegations - and asking reporters the "have you ever been accused of sexual harassment" question doesn't merit having a prepared response IMO.

What campaigns tend to do in these situations is withhold information so that the media outlet doesn't feel like they can publish it. That's likely what happened here. Once Cain gives he non-denial denial, they would have felt vindicated in their reporting and run with the story. Cain's people were probably hoping that they would just scrap the story altogether; that didn't happen.

Any info on whether or not the non-disclosure requirement associated with the settlements was two-sided or one-sided, was Cain specifically mentioned in the settlement agreements and who sign the settlements on behalf of the association?

We simply don't know at this point. But my guess would be that if someone had reporting that suggested that Cain was party to the settlement, now would be the time to come forward with that.

Is this just another "high-tech lynching"? (Clarence Thomas had no idea of how much high technology would progress since 20 years ago this month)

We're hearing that term thrown around, and Cain said today that he's the victim of a "witch hunt." That's not quite "high-tech lynching."

What if the two women decided to talk to the public? After all these years, would they still have to return all or part of the settlement money? (With interest?)

If that were the case, I'm sure there would be a campaign or two that would be happy to reimburse the women!

While I have zero tolerance for this kind of behavior, people can learn from their mistakes - not sure that he should be disqualified on this basis alone, but the attitude of "it didn't happen because I said it didn't" rather than admitting to it and talking about what he learned and how is now, is a huge red flag for me. What are your thoughts? Am I off-base in this assessment?

Another reason that Cain could survive this is that we're not completely aware of what kind of behavior was involved. The severity of the harassment is a big part of all this, and harassment is a pretty wide-ranging term.

It is entirely possible that Cain believes no harassment occurred, but that the organization's insurer insisted on a settlement because it was cheaper to pay for the accusers' silence that it would be to go to court over the matter (and risk losing because a jury didn't buy Cain's idea of butt-pats or off-color comments as just routine in a friendly workplace).

True. I was just talking to renowned crisis communications consultant Eric Dezenhall about this. Here's what he said:

"The fact that he may have paid a settlement doesn’t mean much to me either.  I’ve had clients who paid settlements just to make something go away.  The problem is, when the public hears 'settlement,' they immediately assume guilt because so few people have personal experience with being rich and being shaken down.

Regardless of the merits of the underlying allegations - there is simply no conceivable way that Cain would not have been told about the settlements. In my 13 years of practicing employment law, I have never ever heard of a company reaching a settlement and not informing the accused. And, clearly every one else on the board knew about this settlement, regardless.

There do seem to be a lot of people who know about this. So if they knew about it, how did the accused not know about it? This is the one big question that remains for Cain.

This has got to be the end of the Cain campaign, right? It's obvious he can't handle the spotlight and his campaign staff is shambolic.

Way too early to say. There is enough plausible doubt that people who like Cain are likely to believe him.

I think there need to be more revelations before we label this one a death blow.

I don't really care about whether the allegations are true. What interests me is where the media got the story to begin with. Any truth to the stories that this was leaked by GOP rivals to dash Cain's chances? I could see any of the candidates doing it, but particularly Romney and Perry who gain the most from Cain's faltering in the race.

Every candidate has an opposition research team, and these things often emanate from the oppo shops of political opponents. That said, it's up to the media to determine whether the story has merit and to look at an opponent's opposition research with extreme scrutiny.

Aaron Thanks for the chat - the problem I have with his explanation is that as CEO of the Association, why would he not want/have/need to know how the allegations against HIM PERSONALLY were settled. And how in turn this reflects on his management style. I don't think POTUS should be overseeing the tennis court schedule at the WH, but Cain wants us to believe the he had no idea how a case against him personally was settled by the org he while he was CEO of said org. So he's either "not telling the truth" or unaware of how an accuasation against him personally was settled. Wow.

Well said. This just about summarizes the argument against Cain's defense.

How often do rich people get shaken down?

According to Dezenhall, they get shaken down plenty. If someone is powerful and gets accused of sexual harrassment, they have a lot to lose, whereas their employees don't have as much to lose.

Is it possible people are more willing to believe the worst out of this story simply because they don't know enough about Cain? He's a relative unknown so it's not like there is a lot to go on to make a judgment either way.

In contrast, I think people are more likely to believe the best about Cain. His personal favorability numbers are better than just about anybody else in the GOP presidential field (http://bit.ly/vlKMSv). That kind of goodwill is definitely worth something in a situation like this.

Yet another politician is accused of hanky panky. People are going to assume it's true because politicians aren't exactly known to be sexually repressed.

This is a sad truth about politicians. It seems that just about every time a politician is accused of some kind of sexual misconduct, we later learn that they were guilty. Cain's predecessors don't have a great track record, but should that be used against him (especially as a non-politician)?

One "false" allegation of sexual harrassment seems plausible, but two does not. Even less plausible is his claim that he did not know whether they were settled, and for how much. This bungling, coupled with what appear to be clear campaign finance violations of the law, mean that his inevitable decline will just be quicker than expected. Your thoughts?

The fact that there were two accusers does make this a little more difficult for Team Cain. If there were threee, I suspect it would be even more difficult.

So we're supposed to believe that the women signed agreements or settlements not to speak of the issue, but Cain can call them liars?

That's correct. Even if Cain had signed an agreement, I'm guessing it would include no admission of guilt, which means he could continue to maintain his innocence. That said, he's saying he wasn't even aware of the agreement.

What's the state of Cain's organization in early states like Iowa, NH, SC, etc.? Will this derail any of his efforts to get that organization in place?

His campaign hasn't shown much interest in setting up shop in the early states, and we don't see that changing (he has spent recent days in Alabama and Arkansas, among other places).

One thing that is interesting is that most of the stories I have read on this states that it involves "at least two" women. What is the likelihood that there are more?

To me, that suggests they know about two instances but think there could be more (?). I don't know what else to read into that.

Have you ever run across a campaign where the other candidates would dare to make a specific reference to this imbroglio, in order to hurt under fire candidate?

This is really dicey territory for Cain's opponents to tread, and I wouldn't expect them to say anything about it any time soon -- unless they are desperate.

so, what you all are saying is that I shouldn't have started Cain this week in my Fantasy Republican Presidential Campaign league? Oops. What's the probability that this IMPROVES Cain's ratings amongst Republicans but sinks him in a general election matchup?

Let's just say he's not having as good a week as LeSean McCoy.

As to your second point -- this kinds of things can certainly rally support behind Cain among conservatives, especially if there is still plenty of doubt about the allegations. But does all of this give independent women voters pause? Maybe.

Which video has better acting and production quality - a sexual harassment training video or That Ad from the Cain campaign?

Not sure, but I would definitely like to see Mark Block smoking a cigarette in an anti-sexual harrassment PSA.

If the Politico is to be believed, I think the propositioning a woman is a much bigger problem then "sexual harassment" in the abstract. It doesn't seem like Cain's supporters are going to enjoy him stepping out on his wife a lot more than more potentially ambiguous conduct that could have two contexts to it.

Agreed: the content of his behavior is important here. And it could be anything from poorly chosen jokes to really bad behavior.

Do you have any feel for the timing of these accusations? Would they have arisen even if Cain had not gained so much in the polls, or would they have remained quiet if Cain was not such a public figure?

There is a lot more scrutiny if you're the frontrunner. I doubt we would have seen this story if he was still under 10 percent.

Thanks everyone for coming out! I hope it was informative, and that you'll join us for future chats. Happy Halloween.


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Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake covers national politics at the Washington Post, where he writes regularly for the Fix, the Post's top political blog. A Minnesota native and summa cum laude graduate of the University of Minnesota, Aaron has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The Hill newspaper. Aaron and his wife, Danielle, live in Annandale, Va.
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