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In court filing, Armstrong Williams admits to lurid sexual comments

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Correction: Via name mix-up, the original version of this post stated that Williams was ordered to “massage my butt cheeks.” In fact, it was Woodyard who was ordered to “massage my butt cheeks,” according to the complaint. 

Armstrong Williams, the longtime conservative media entrepreneur and adviser to failed GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson, attracted a round of publicity over the summer for precisely the wrong reasons. He was named in a sexual harassment suit filed in a D.C. federal court by Charlton Woodyard, a former employee of Jos. A. Bank whom Williams had befriended in spring 2013 — and, according to the suit, went on to mentor, manipulate and harass over the next couple of years. The low point of the complaint describes a November 2015 incident at Williams’s house. As the suit tells it, Williams made some unconventional sexual advances toward Woodyard. Specifically: The complaint says that Williams grabbed Woodyard’s penis through his pants and said, “You got small feet, small hands … and an oversized weapon. How does that work? How is that possible?”

There is far more to the scene. Williams allegedly asked Woodyard why he was “wearing so many layers.” When Woodyard replied that he was “freezing,” Williams said that his own “heat” was better than clothes. He also ordered Woodyard to “massage my butt cheeks,” according to the complaint, and demanded that Woodyard put his arms around him and that he wasn’t “gonna bite.” And other such alleged stuff that rolls out over approximately seven paragraphs of Woodyard’s complaint.

In a Sept. 12 filing, Williams denied all of these allegations, among others in the complaint.

In a Sept. 30 filing, however, Williams reversed course, admitting to the quotes attributed to him in the lawsuit — with a caveat or two, that is. Here’s how the language reads: “Defendants admit that the quoted statements … were spoken, but deny the context and characterization of the allegations as editorialized in the [complaint] and on that basis deny them.” That very formulation is repeated several times in Williams’s rebuttal. It’s a familiar refrain for any journalist who has engaged in adversarial reporting. Those who’ve been nailed to the wall via solid reporting always cry “Context!” It’s generally a baseless objection, too; is there any way to misinterpret “massage my butt cheeks”?

The Erik Wemple Blog asked Williams what accounted for the reversal but hasn’t gotten a response.

The 180-degree turnabout in Williams’s filing marks quite an embarrassment for the SiriusXM radio host and owner of seven television stations across the country. In addition to his media work, Williams spoke frequently on behalf of Carson during his presidential bid, though not as a campaign official; he represented Carson in his capacity as his “business manager.” At times Williams and the campaign were working off different strategy memos, to glorious effect.

As for Williams’s interactions with Woodyard, his response to the suit acknowledges that he took Woodyard under his wing and attempted to assist him professionally. It denies the parts about sexual harassment and the like. As explained here, Williams helped Woodyard leave the world of low-priced, highly derided suits and secure a job at the Washington Times and, then, starting in November 2015, with a television station —WSES-TV in Birmingham, Ala. — owned by Williams’s Howard Stirk Holdings II LLC. Earlier this year, Woodyard signed a termination agreement with the company, and he later attempted to revoke it.

Woodyard’s case against Williams contains an official reference to the Erik Wemple Blog as well as to the New York Times, each of which interviewed Williams after the suit was filed. In comments to both outlets, Williams suggested a profit motive: “He’s trying to get paid,” Williams told this blog, adding that he’d rebuffed attempts by Woodyard’s counsel to dispose of the claims quietly. “Something like this was filed against me before. … He’s trying to follow the same script.” Indeed, Williams settled a 1997 sexual harassment claim by one of his former radio producers.

Once Woodyard’s lawyer, Debra Katz, saw such dismissive remarks, she filed an amended complaint that added a new count against the radio host: “This is also an action against Defendant Armstrong Williams for defamation per se in violation of District of Columbia common law,” reads the complaint. “At the time Mr. Williams made these statements, he knew they were false,” says the amended complaint, continuing, “he knew that Mr. Woodyard had not made any form of request for payment of funds from him and, moreover, that the allegations in the complaint were true and Mr. Woodyard had irrefutable proof of the allegations concerning the assault that took place at Mr. Williams’ home on November 1, 2015. Mr. Williams has refused to retract the defamatory statements.”