Cain’s Sexual Harassment Denials are Falsifiable—and Fatal

How you look at things.
Nov. 9 2011 8:51 AM

Cain of Denial

Herman Cain’s press conference about his sexual harassment accusers is a road map to his destruction.

Herman Cain at his sexual harassment press conference.
Herman Cain's sexual harassment press conference: Deny, deny, deny.

Photograph by Eric Thayer/Getty Images

Herman Cain is going down in flames because he failed to learn the first rule of political scandal: Don’t make statements that can be falsified.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

You can lie about what you believe. You can lie about what you’d do if elected. You can deny that your tax reform plan would raise taxes. You can get away with all of these things because they’re matters of speculation, interpretation, or argument. But if you make specific factual claims about the past, as Cain did in his Tuesday press conference about sexual harassment allegations, you can be flatly disproved. Worse, you can goad your accusers into backing up their charges with evidence. That’s what Cain has done. His press conference is a road map to his destruction.

The press conference began with Cain’s attorney, Lin Wood, claiming that accuser Sharon Bialek had mysteriously chosen “to tell her story to a third person for the first time” after “14 years, when recollections have faded [and] witnesses cannot be located.” Really? Bialek has affidavits from two people to whom she reported the incident when it happened.

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Then Cain took the stand. “I saw [Gloria] Allred and her client [Bialek] yesterday in that news conference for the very first time,” he declared. “My first response … was, ‘I don't even know who this woman is.’” Under questioning, Cain repeated, “I didn't recognize the face. I didn't recognize the name, nor the voice.” But Bialek says she spoke with Cain a month ago at a Tea Party event, and one eyewitness has already come forward: Amy Jacobson, a Chicago radio host. “They were hugging,” Jacobson tells the Chicago Sun-Times. “She was inches from his ear,” and Cain was telling her, “Uh, huh. Uh, huh.”

In an interview with ABC yesterday, Cain said of Bialek, “I don't even know who this lady is.” ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked him: “You don't remember having drinks with her back in '97, you don't remember giving her a ride in your car?” Cain replied, “Absolutely not.”

That’s odd, because Bialek says that when she arrived in Washington to meet with Cain in mid-July 1997, she found that her reservation at the Capitol Hilton had been converted to a “palatial suite.” She says that Cain told her, “I upgraded you.” Would Bialek recognize the room today? Does the hotel keep records of who paid for which room? If so, the source of payment for that room on that night can be checked. The same might be true of Bialek’s reported dinner with Cain at an Italian restaurant that evening. Can she identify the restaurant? Does the restaurant keep payment records going that far back? Cain had better hope not.

At his press conference, Cain said the harassment claims of another accuser, Karen Kraushaar, “were found baseless. There was no legal settlement. There was an agreement between that lady and the National Restaurant Association, and it was treated as a personnel matter because there was no basis to her accusations.” Is that so? Let’s find out. The NRA says it’s “willing to waive the confidentiality” clause in the agreement, and Kraushaar tells CNN that she kept copies of all the documents and is prepared to release them. Her lawyer tells the New York Times that she “has decided to hold a joint news conference with as many of the women who complained of sexual harassment by Herman Cain as will participate.” According to the Times, the women would provide “more details of their experiences with Mr. Cain.”

“Tell us what she accused you of,” Times reporter Marc Lacey asked Cain at the press conference. Cain replied that he had stood next to Kraushaar in his office and gestured toward her, saying, "You're the same height as my wife.” According to Cain, “That was the [incident] that my general counsel came to me and said, the one that appears to be the one that she was most upset about.”

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