Herman Cain, at a presser just now, pushed back on the Politico story this way:
I was falsely accused of sexual harassment. And when the charges were brought, as the leader of the organization I recused myself and allowed my general counsel and my human resource officer to deal with the situation. And it was concluded after a thorough investigation that it had no basis.
As for a settlement, I am unaware of any sort of settlement. I hope it wasn’t for much, because I didn’t do anything. But the fact of the matter is, I’m not aware of a settlement that came out of that accusation. Per the article, two anonymous sources claim it’s sexual harassment. We’re not gonna chase anonymous sources when there’s no basis for the accusation.
Even presuming Cain is not guilty of any inappropriate behavior, there are a few problems with this pushback. Cain claims he was, and is, “unaware of any sort of settlement.” Jennifer Rubin details several reasons why this is an implausible assertion on its face. I’d add one more reason: Cain’s spokesman originally told Politico that this whole matter had been “settled amicably among the parties a long time ago,” which seems at odds with what Cain just said.
It’s true that Cain’s spokesman subsequently revised that explanation, clarifying that he didn’t mean that the mess had been settled in a legal context and only meant that it had been “resolved.” So either Cain is now contradicting his own campaign’s original response, or the original response was so confused as to make things far worse. At a minimum, the Cain campaign’s failure to initially nail down the basic question of whether Cain knew there had been a settlement, when the claim of a settlement was central to Politico’s allegations, is an embarrassingly awful screw-up.
Second, Cain today defended his campaign’s original dismissal of the story by claiming he had no interest in responding to “anonymous sources.” But as the Politico story details, the reporters actually did approach the Cain campaign — and Cain himself! — with an actual name:
His campaign staff was given the name of one woman who complained last week, and it was repeated to Cain on Sunday. He responded, “I am not going to comment on that.”
Even worse, Mark Block, Cain’s chief of carcinogenic indulgence, er, his chief of staff, confirmed to TPM today that his campaign had indeed been given an accuser’s name.
As Brendan Nyhan notes, this is mostly noise, because Cain was all but certain not to win in any case. And Steve Benen rightly points out that the other Cain story of the day — about campaign finance — is at least as bad as this one. But since we’re on the topic, it’s worth marveling at what a huge mess the Cain camp has made of this story. Barring more info coming out, it seems likely that the original charges themselves won’t be the problem. It’s his handling of the story that will raise serious questions about his capacity to handle crises, even if we’re just talking about political ones.