Cain controversy far from ‘done’

About 24 hours ago, Herman Cain’s chief of staff, Mark Block, declared his candidate’s sexual-harassment controversy “done.” There wasn’t anything more to talk about, Block said, so the political world can just “move on.”

Let’s put that in the file labeled “wishful thinking.”

Any hopes that this would be a one-day story for Cain quickly vanished when Cain addressed every relevant detail, and changed his version of events several times. This, not surprisingly, not only kept the story alive, but signaled to reporters that they should keep digging.

Of particular interest are the financial settlements given to Cain’s accusers. The Republican presidential candidate initially said he knew nothing about the settlements, then said he was aware of it, then said the payments covered “three months” salary, and then said “three to six months’ severance pay.”

The truth is more interesting.

The National Restaurant Association gave $35,000 — a year’s salary — in severance pay to a female staff member in the late 1990s after an encounter with Herman Cain, its chief executive at the time, made her uncomfortable working there, three people with direct knowledge of the payment said on Tuesday.

The woman was one of two whose accusations of sexual harassment by Mr. Cain, now a Republican candidate for president, led to paid severance agreements during his 1996-99 tenure at the association. Disclosure of the scale of the severance further challenged his initial description of the matter as a “witch hunt,” as did new descriptions from the woman’s friends and colleagues of her level of discomfort at work.

These details not only matter because they contradict all of Cain’s various claims, but also because they speak to the merit of the allegations. When Cain spoke to Fox News on Monday night, he said three months’ severance was “well within the range of what we would do if we had an amicable separation between the association and an employee.” That would be true. But since the trade organization’s lawyers were willing to pay a full year’s severance, it suggests it was not at all “an amicable separation,” and that NRA counsel was concerned about the accusations.

Making matters slightly worse for Cain, his other accuser is apparently eager to address the charges.

A woman who accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment in the 1990s is ready for her story to come out, her attorney said Tuesday, even as the Republican presidential hopeful spent a second day trying to quell the mounting controversy and explain his conflicting recollections of the matter.

Joel P. Bennett, a lawyer representing one of two women who made the claims against Cain, said Tuesday that his client is barred from publicly relating her side because of a non-disclosure agreement she signed upon leaving the National Restaurant Association, where Cain served as president from 1996 through 1999.

The woman has heard Cain describe her allegations as false and baseless, and wants to defend herself, but can’t because she’s limited by a confidentiality agreement. If the National Restaurant Association waives the restrictions, the woman can respond publicly.

The question for Cain, then, is pretty straightforward: will he urge the NRA to lift the confidentiality agreement and allow the public to hear both sides?