Politico: Herman Cain Accused of Sexual Harassment in the 1990s

Herman Cain mentioned last week that he was ready for the "high tech lynching," a very clear reference to the treatment that Clarence Thomas received en route to the Supreme Court. Cain may have been aware that this Politico story was imminent.

During Herman Cain’s tenure as the head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, at least two female employees complained to colleagues and senior association officials about inappropriate behavior by Cain, ultimately leaving their jobs at the trade group, multiple sources confirm to POLITICO.

The women complained of sexually suggestive behavior by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable, the sources said, and they signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts to leave the association. The agreements also included language that bars the women from talking about their departures.

In a series of comments over the past 10 days, Cain and his campaign repeatedly declined to respond directly about whether he ever faced allegations of sexual harassment at the restaurant association. They have also declined to address questions about specific reporting confirming that there were financial settlements in two cases in which women leveled complaints.

POLITICO has confirmed the identities of the two female restaurant association employees who complained about Cain but, for privacy concerns, is not publishing their names.

Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon told POLITICO the candidate indicated to campaign officials that he was “vaguely familiar” with the charges and that the restaurant association’s general counsel had resolved the matter.

Four things spring to mind here. One, he could be guilty. But two, since the names of the accusers aren't public, we have no way of assessing the credibility of their charges. And three, this happened in the 1990s. Charges of sexual harassment dominated the headlines in those days. I'm not dismissing their validity out of hand in any way, but it's simply a fact that the 1990s were a time when very many male leaders in politics, the military and the corporate world stood accused of sexual harassment, and not all of the charges leveled were equally credible. Some were quite credible and led to justice while some were not at all, and were attempts to use the times to generate a payout. The charges against Clarence Thomas in particular were not credible at all, but the Democrats tried to use them to keep him off the Supreme Court.  They also supported a serial Sexual Harasser in Chief throughout most of the decade, in the presidency.

It's also very possible that even if Cain did what he is accused of doing, he learned from it and would never do it again (whatever it is he is supposed to have done; there's no detail in the Politico's story). A spokesman strongly denies that anything inappropriate happened.

I'm reserving judgement until we know more about all of this. One thing is certain: This will be at least a major temporary distraction for the Cain campaign.