If we've learned one thing about politicians, it's that they tend to run like well-oiled sexual harassment machines. They're some of the busiest people in America, and yet many find time to subject their aides to bizarre and inappropriate behavior, and some are even sharing troubling semi-nude photographs of themselves online. The 2012 Republican field has some potential for a sex scandal with an unusual twist, from the moralizing Morman frontrunner to the moralizing, lesbian-fearing lady, but instead, this year's harassment allegations will focus on the befuddled pizza man, Herman Cain.
This evening Politico published a bombshell report which reveals that Cain was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior by at least two female employees when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s. Both of the women, whose names haven't been released, signed agreements with the group that gave them financial settlements in return for leaving the association and agreeing not to talk about the circumstances of their departure. Nevertheless, Politico has pieced together the nature of the allegations:
The sources - which include the recollections of close associates and other documentation - describe episodes that left the women upset and offended. These incidents include conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature, taking place at hotels during conferences, at other officially sanctioned restaurant association events and at the association's offices. There were also descriptions of physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship.
One woman is said to have received an "an unwanted sexual advance" from Cain at a hotel where an assocation event was being held. Other anonymous sources say they were troubled by the effort to keep the women quiet rather than addressing the allegations, and one added, "I happen to know there were sealed settlements reached in the plural. I think that anybody who thinks this was a one-time, one-person transgression would be mistaken."
Cain's response to the allegations has been about as ineloquent as you'd expect. First, his campaign ignored Politico's request for comment for four days. Then his spokeman J.D. Gordon said:
"These are old and tired allegations that never stood up to the facts ... This was settled amicably among all parties many years ago, and dredging this up now is merely part of a smear campaign meant to discredit a true patriot who is shaking up the political status quo."
Later Gordon amended the statement, saying he meant the matter was "resolved" not "settled" in a legal sense. This week he told Politico that Cain was "vaguely familiar" with the situation, adding, "He remembered there was something vaguely, some allegation, but he wasn't familiar with it."
Following his appearance on Face the Nation this morning, a Politico reporter approached Cain on the sidewalk. He tried to avoid answering the questions, saying he has "had thousands of people working for me" throughout the years and couldn't comment "until I see some facts or some concrete evidence." Then he figured he could get out of the predicament by using Jedi mind tricks:
He was then asked, "Have you ever been accused, sir, in your life of harassment by a woman?"
He breathed audibly, glared at the reporter and stayed silent for several seconds. After the question was repeated three times, he responded by asking the reporter, "Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?"
Considering what we know of Cain's rhetorical skills, this thing's going to get uglier — or at least much more confusing.