Cain of Denial
Herman Cain’s press conference about his sexual harassment accusers is a road map to his destruction.
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.
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.
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.”
Nope. Kraushaar tells CNN that the incident Cain described was “so innocuous it wasn't even a part of my complaint." She says the truly inappropriate incident, reported in the complaint, occurred in her office, not Cain’s. Thanks to his denials, we’re certain to hear and read more about it.
On Fox News, Cain tried to explain Kraushaar’s departure from the NRA by claiming that her job “performance, it had been told to me by her boss, was not up to par.” That, too, can be checked. Kraushaar’s boss at her next job tells CNN that Kraushaar was “the utmost professional, one of the hardest working individuals I have ever known.”
In an Oct. 31 appearance at the National Press Club, Cain said he was unaware of any settlement of harassment allegations against him. Then he acknowledged that he had been told of an agreement. But two days later, he continued to insist that in his 40-year business career, “that was the only instance of accused sexual abuse—sexual harassment, the only one.” Now we know that at least two such accusations were settled for a combined $80,000, far more than Cain suggested. And a former employee of the United States Agency for International Development tells the Washington Examiner that three years after Cain left the NRA, he tried to get dinner dates with two women after a speech overseas. The stories just keep coming.
At his press conference, Cain said the allegations against him were uncorroborated. But former NRA pollster Chris Wilson has told an Oklahoma radio station, “I was around a couple of times when this happened.” Wilson referred to an incident “at a restaurant in Crystal City” in northern Virginia. According to Wilson, “many people were aware of what took place” there.
Week after week, Cain has misrepresented his past. He denied having said that families, not politicians, should make abortion decisions. He denied having said he would exclude Muslims from his cabinet. He denied having opposed an audit of the Federal Reserve. He dismissed his advocacy of an electrified border fence as a joke, then said he was serious about it. The public record falsified all of these denials. When CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Cain what he’d do if “al-Qaida or some other terrorist group” demanded that he “free everyone at Guantanamo Bay, several hundred prisoners” in exchange for a U.S. soldier, Cain replied: "I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer.” Hours later, Cain said of Blitzer: "I don't recall him saying that it was al-Qaida-related.”
For all of this, Cain has gone unpunished. His rise in the polls has given him the illusion that he can go on making false and falsifiable statements, even when the question is sexual harassment. He’s about to find out the hard way that he can’t.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.