"You Want a Job, Don't You?"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 7 2011 2:57 PM

"You Want a Job, Don't You?"

Finally, after eight days of allegations and documents and dodging and distraction, the Herman Cain story has plunged through the looking glass. Gloria Allred, still scrappy after her bit part in the Anthony Weiner story, has introduced the world to Sharon Bialek, a former employee of a National Restaurant Association sub-group in Chicago, who has a very specific tale of a sexual assault from the co-frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

Shall we go over all of the stupid things that happened? Can we judge Allred for injecting a personal note of disgust if -- she said "if"! -- the other, legally settled Cain accusations were true? I suppose so, but I'd rather focus on what Bialek actually accused Cain of doing. She described a 1997 meeting with Cain after her role at the NRA had ended. According to Bialek, Cain drove her to the NRA's D.C. office, and then attempted to take advantage of her.

"He put his hand on my leg," said Bialek, "under my skirt, and reached for my genitals. He also grabbed my head and reached for his crotch." I said, 'Why are you doing this? You know I have a boyfriend!' He said: 'You want a job, don't you?'"

The Cain campaign put out a statement before the presser was even over.

Just as the country finally begins to refocus on our crippling $15 trillion national debt and the unacceptably high unemployment rate, now activist celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred is bringing forth more false accusations against the character of Republican front-runner Herman Cain. All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false. Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone. Fortunately the American people will not allow Mr. Cain’s bold “9-9-9 Plan”, clear foreign policy vision and plans for energy independence to be overshadowed by these bogus attacks.

I like the tone there: The country was "beginning to refocus" after... well, after a week spent talking about whether Herman Cain harassed women. But the accuser created a few legitimate questions for Cain. Is her story true? Did he encounter her again at a Tea Party conference in Chicago this year, as she claimed? There is a straight denial in this statement -- "false accusations" -- but now Cain has to contend with video (live-streamed by TMZ) of a blonde woman who claims that have been propositioned for sex. Bialek isn't taking any legal action right now, and she really couldn't. The statute of limitations for third and fourth degree sexual assault in D.C. is 10 years. (When Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas, nine years had passed.)

UPDATE: Shear takes us further down the path of doom:

Joel P. Bennett, a lawyer for one of Mr. Cain’s anonymous accusers, said that Ms. Bialek’s claims were “very similar” in nature to the incident that occurred between his client and Mr. Cain.
His client has not said whether Mr. Cain touched her physically. In a statement Friday on her behalf, Mr. Bennett alleged that Mr. Cain had engaged in a “series of inappropriate behaviors and unwanted advances” toward his client.
“It corroborates the claim,” Mr. Bennett said of Ms. Bialek’s allegation. Asked whether that meant that Mr. Cain had physically touched his client inappropriately, Mr. Bennett said “I can’t get more specific” but added that “I can say it is corroborating.”

Bennett held a press conference last week and didn't get this specific. The situation Cain has described with his former employees was totally sexless; for example, he says he compared one woman's height to his wife's height. (If your mind's dirty enough, you can see the entendre right away, even if it's a pure accident.) Now Bennett says that a situation that could be called assault was "very similar" to what happened to the mystery woman.

UPDATE II: That really didn't take long.

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David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.