Politico reported late on Sunday that Herman Cain was twice accused of "inappropriate behavior" by women who worked with him when he ran the National Restaurant Association in late 1990s.
The story, which gives few details of the incidents, says that in both cases the women were given financial settlements and left the company. The settlements included non-disclosure agreements. Politico claims it has seen documents spelling out the accusations and the terms of the settlements and has identified both women, but will not name them. However, their story does leave clues that will surely lead other news organizations to the women, or guesses as to who the women might be.
The behavior included sexually suggestive conversations, physical gestures that made the women uncomfortable. One of the instances may have involved Cain asking one of the women to come back to his hotel room at a conference. Cain was head of the NRA from 1996 to 1999.
Cain and his campaign offered somewhat confusing denials of the story that initially seemed to acknowledge that the accusations that had happened, but that the claims were not true. When approached by Politico for comment, Cain gave a cryptic response.
He responded, “I am not going to comment on that.”
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?”
Part of the exchange with Poltico's Jonathan Martin was captured on this video:
After the story was published, a Cain spokesman told the AP that the story was not accurate and thinly sourced, though it did not explicitly deny that the accusations were leveled or that settlements had taken place.
Early political speculation has centered on the idea that the story — which is based on anonymous sources and involves incidents that happened more than a decade ago — is unlikely to do the Cain campaign much damage. For many conservatives, it may actually bolster their support, as they will see it as a biased liberal attack on a rising GOP star. The story has obvious parallels to the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill affair, and while these accusations don't appear to be on the same level, Cain himself has stated in the past that they expected "the same high-tech lynching" that he went through.
For some, the mere fact that charges are surfacing means that he's winning. The "establishment" wouldn't go after him if they didn't think Cain was a threat to their order.
As with all political scandals, the question now is "What else is there?" Other news organizations have not had the time do their own follow-ups, but when they do, will there be more the charges than Politico has revealed? Will there be more accusations or more women that come forward? This story alone will not rise to much among political watchers, but if it leads to more and bigger stories, only then will it truly have a chance to damage Cain's campaign.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.