Herman Cain has some serious damage control to do. This week Cain’s campaign has faced increased pressure over sexual harassment allegations from the 1990s, including calls to lift a gag order on a financial settlement with one of the two former female employees who filed complaints, as well as new allegations from a third woman.
Washington lawyer Joel P. Bennett, asserting he represents a woman who he says complained about Cain harassing her at the National Restaurant Association, says that his client wants to get her side of the story out. She is offended by Cain's claims that he was falsely accused and thinks he is lying.
At the moment, she has promised a copy of her original settlement with the restaurant association. Bennett probably will ask the association to release her from her confidentiality agreement so she can talk openly. Even if she does try for a release and the restaurant group refuses, it seems probable that the contents of the settlement will more than likely find their way into the media.
And at least one other accuser might be waiting in the wings: The New York Times reported Wednesday that the National Restaurant Association gave a second woman a full year's salary -- $35,000 -- as severance after she complained that Cain had behaved inappropriately toward her. A full year? That's a lot of money and suggests that she may have a story to tell, too. Once we see a real, live woman step forward and accuse a presidential candidate of sexual harassment, it will certainly become a circus with Cain smack in the middle of it.
The sexual harassment story is only one of the possible scandals brewing around Cain. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported this week that a private corporation has given the Cain campaign some $40,000 in goods and services. The report has been overshadowed, but it won't go away. If that happened, those gifts could be violations of the law.
Amid all the controversy, Cain’s fortunes have been bolstered by conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter who have rushed to his defense. Limbaugh has sparked a familiar cry among tea partiers about "liberal media witch hunts." But no one, least of all the Cain forces, should believe he is getting this behind him. Far from it.
So far, the greatest source of concern among some conservatives is how inept Cain and his team has been in responding. He needs to put an end to the sex controversy and do it fast. If he permits this to continue through the weekend he could be toast.
What should he do? It may seem a hard call, but it isn't really. He should announce that he would be fine with the restaurant association releasing the accuser from her confidentiality agreement, and let each of them make their case to the public. He may have to suffer some embarrassment, but he has to show he is open, fair and ready to lead.
Cain may think that is asking too much of him, but he is asking people to entrust him with the most powerful office on Earth. Is it not fair to voters to get straight answers from a candidate about who he is and how he has acted in his professional life? Cain may bounce back and stay a contender, but conventional wisdom would say he has about 48 hours to get his campaign under control or risk falling out of contention.