The Republican race has officially been hijacked by the Herman Cain sexual harassment controversy, and the furor shows no signs of dying down. Everyone in Washington is now trying to decide whether Cain is more like Clarence Thomas or Bill Clinton. Or maybe even Anthony Weiner.But the media firestorm has overlooked one key fact:
We still don’t know what Cain actually did.
New details emerged Thursday night about the two unnamed women who Politico originally reported had accused Cain of making “sexually suggestive” remarks and “improper” gestures toward them while they were employees at the National Restaurant Association sometime in the 1990s.
The new reports provide some clarity to the scandal, mostly by providing information that differentiates the two original accusers:
According to both stories, one of the women was paid a $35,000 termination settlement after Cain made “unwanted sexual advances” at an NRA event in a hotel, apparently after a night of heavy drinking. The NYT reports that Cain asked the woman to come up to his hotel room, and made repeated advances even after she declined.
Politico reports that the second woman reached a $45,000 termination agreement with the NRA to settle harassment claims against Cain. She is the same woman Cain was referring to when he recalled that employee had “falsely” accused him of sexual harassment after he “made a gesture saying” she was the same height as his wife. She is also the same woman who has requested to release an anonymous statement through the NRA that would “counter” Cain’s statements, while leaving out the details of the incident.
But in the end, the new revelations raise more questions than they answer. In fact, the Cain harassment story has actually gotten more vague and confusing as new details and allegations emerge.
Here’s why the whole story is still very questionable:
- The first Politico report claimed that there were multiple incidents in which the two women felt uncomfortable by Cain’s remarks and gestures, which suggests a pattern of inappropriate behaviour toward female subordinates. But the new reports describe just two incidents with two separate women, both of which resulted in settlements and confidentiality agreements.
- Both Politico and the NYT have relied solely on anonymous sources who claim to have knowledge about the two unnamed women, and details about the sexual harassment accusations are extremely limited. While the confidentiality contracts provide some explanation for this, it is worth noting that not one source was willing to put a name behind the allegations.
- A third anonymous accuser told the AP that Cain was “aggressive and inappropriate” and even invited her to his apartment, at around the same time as the other accusations. But she declined to give her name or even give any specific details, even though she did not file a complaint against Cain and can speak freely.
- Veteran GOP pollster Chris Wilson, a Rick Perry backer who worked at the NRA during Cain’s tenure, told Oklahoma talk radio Wednesday that he witnessed Cain sexually harass a low-level NRA staffer at a restaurant in Virginia. He provided zero details but said “everybody involved” with the NRA at the time knew about Cain’s behaviour.
- Cain revealed that he told Rick Perry’s campaign aide Curt Anderson about a sexual harassment claim against him while Anderson was working on Cain’s failed 2004 Senate campaign. But Cain will not specify which sexual harassment incident he is referring to — not to mention his accusation totally contradicts earlier claims that Cain was unaware of any harassment allegations.
It is understandable that Cain’s alleged victims are unwilling to go public for fear of breaking their legal agreements and/or upending their lives and becoming targets of public ridicule. But is there a gag order on everyone who worked for the NRA in the 1990s? At least that would explain why not one person who knew about or witnessed the events appears to be willing to step forward, or at least provide some real details about what actually happened.
Now, in the absence of any factual evidence — like names, places, dates, for example — the Cain campaign is riding out this relentless news cycle with flat-out denials. But it is unclear if Cain even knows what he is denying at this point.
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