Herman Cain's lack of political experience has been one of his main selling points, but one way it's clearly hurt him is that it led him to believe reports that he was accused of sexual harassment by two women would just go away. But instead of the story disappearing, on Wednesday, The New York Times reports that one of his accusers was given a year's salary -- $35,000 -- when she left the National Restaurant Association, not the two to three months' pay Cain claimed as evidence her charges were "baseless." Since Politico began reporting the story, it's apparent Cain thought he could get away with the vaguest denials -- when Politico asked him if he'd ever sexually harassed a woman, he responded, "Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?" -- but when you're at the top of the polls, sarcastic comebacks won't cut it. In the past three days, Cain has contradicted himself several times; here are the latest facts he has to deal with.
A Year's Pay
The New York Times
' Jim Rutenberg, Jeff Zeleny, and Mike McIntire
report that one of Cain's accusers got $35,000 in severance pay when she left the organization. That doesn't match what Cain told Fox News' Greta van Susteren, that she got "two months or three months" pay. And it calls into question Cain's insistence that the low payout showed the claim had no merit.
reports that "One former colleague familiar with the details said such a severance was not common, especially for an employee with the woman’s relatively short tenure and her pay grade." Cain told
van Susteren that when the trade group's general counsel told him the case was settled:
"He said this started out where she and her lawyer were demanding a huge financial settlement. ... But then he said, The good news is because there was no basis for this, we ended up settling for what would have been a termination settlement, quite frankly... It really worked out to what we probably would have been able to give her if she had resigned because for cause. ... I just know it was well within the range of what we would do if we had an amicable separation between the association and an employee."
A New Story
Cain said the only incident that he could remember was when he put his hand to his chin and said one of the women was as tall as his wife. The Times reports another incident:
Four people with contemporaneous knowledge of the encounter said it had taken place in the context of a work outing during which there had been heavy drinking -- a hallmark, they said, of outings with an organization that represents the hospitality industry.
Accuser Wants to Speak
A lawyer for one of the women, Joel Bennett, has told several news organizations that his client wants to speak out. He told the Times of Cain, "He’s basically saying: 'I never harassed anyone. These claims have no merit.' ... And I'm sure my client would have a comeback to that." The Hill
notes Bennett told CBS's The Early Show
Wednesday that there was more than one incident of sexual harassment. His client, Bennett said, "would like to speak out for the record, only because Mr. Cain has stated that he didn't sexually harass anyone, that there wasn't any substance to the allegations, and basically made it look like she was some type of frivolous claimant looking for money."
But as Politico's Maggie Haberman
noticed, Cain implied that he's not sure he's going to allow the woman to speak in her own defense. Cain told Fox Tuesday night, "There are legal implications if the Restaurant Association waives that. I just found out about this today; there are legal implications ... We can't answer that right now. It's too soon."
Violating Non-Disparagement Agreement
Further, Bennett said on CBS that Cain violated the terms of the settlement by saying the woman was bad at her job. He told van Susteren that her job performance was "not up to par." Bennett said that violated the non-disparagement clause.
Playing the Bill Clinton Card
In Cain's interview with Fox Tuesday night, Charles Krauthammer pulled out the big guns, making a pretty explosive charge against the Republican:
KRAUTHAMMER: Yesterday early in the day, you said that you were not aware of any settlement. Later in the day on the Greta show, you were aware of the settlement. ... How do you explain that contradiction?
CAIN: The way I explain that contradiction is because when I first heard the word "settlement," I thought legal settlement. My recollection early -- my recollection later is that there was an agreement. So I made assumption about the word settlement that was legal, and I didn't think that there was a legal settlement but an agreement. ...
KRAUTHAMMER: ... [W]hen you make a distinction between "settlement" and "agreement," it sounds Clintonian. It sounds like you are explaining, well, it depends what the word "is" is. So how does Herman Cain end up parsing the words in such a Clintonian, legalistic way?
CAIN: It wasn't intended to be Clintonian. It was simply using the word "agreement," which in business organizations that I have run, whenever there has been an employee leaving, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, we would generally call it an agreement.
Playing the Clarence Thomas Card
The New York Times
' Maureen Dowd
notes that several conservatives have compared the stories about Cain to the sexual harassment charges Clarence Thomas faced when he was nominated to the Supreme Court 20 years ago. She thinks they're wrong. "This isn’t an incendiary story about race. It is the most hackneyed story in Washington -- another powerful man who crossed the line and then, when caught, tried to blame the women," Dowd writes. Haberman observes that for the first time, however, Cain agreed with the Thomas comparison. "I believe the answer is yes, but we do not have any evidence to support it. ... Relative to the left, I believe that race is a bigger driving factor," Cain said on Fox
And it's not just the woman thing. Cain has a track record -- and maybe this comes from having a background as a talk radio host and not a politician -- of being quite shocked when people take his words seriously. When asked why he said he'd build an electric fence on the border with Mexico to fry illegal immigrants, he claimed he was just kidding. "America needs to get a sense of humor," Cain said
. Likewise, the American Enterprise Institute Monday, somewhat addressing the sexual harassment claims, Cain told reporters, "Yes, I am an unconventional candidate, and yes, I do have a sense of humor and some people have a problem with that
." Then he sang a song
. But when it comes to sexual harassment, bad jokes tend to be what get you in trouble in the first place.