Political Correction

Sen. Lee Baselessly Suggests Cain Scandal Is An "Anonymous," "Racially-Motivated Attack"

November 02, 2011 9:45 am ET - by Alan Pyke

NBC and NPR have confirmed Politico's report that Herman Cain's former employer paid a settlement in the 1990s over allegations that the GOP presidential hopeful had sexually harassed another employee. But Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) speculates to the National Review that the whole thing may be "another racially-motivated attack" that will ultimately rally conservatives to Cain's side:

"With members of Congress and with voters generally, if this turns out to be another racially-motivated attack on an African American conservative that is unfounded, unfair, uncorroborated, and in this instance, based on anonymous sources, I think that's going to rally people around him, in Congress and elsewhere," Lee says.

Lee, a former Supreme Court clerk, adds that similarities between Cain's situation and Anita Hill's accusations towards Clarence Thomas are relevant.

"There are some parallels here, and to the extent that they played a role in this, it's very, very offensive, and it's going to backfire severely," he predicts.

As Greg Sargent has pointed out, the woman in this case did not accuse Cain anonymously. She did so personally with National Restaurant Association staff sometime in the late 1990s, and Politico decided not to reveal her name in reporting the settlement this week. Cain denies that he was guilty of harassment, but confirms that he was accused and says "If there was a settlement" he didn't know about it.

And as Dave Weigel has noted, the factual differences between the Clarence Thomas episode and the Cain story make the kind of speculation Lee's engaging in here look ridiculous:

Cain's situation is nothing like Thomas's. Start with the known facts. Cain, according to Politico's reporting, has two harassment settlements to account for from his days at the National Restaurant Assocation -- the last of them occurring 12 years ago. Thomas had to answer Anita Hill's claims that she'd been sexually harassed when working for him at the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights -- nine years before the hearings. Hill then went on to work for Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That's a key difference. Hill did not air her claims until Thomas was a candidate for a SCOTUS seat. Cain's accusers made their claims and changed the courses of their careers in the 1990s.

According to the lawyer for the woman who was paid a settlement, the only thing standing between Lee and the kind of open-air examination of her accusations he wants is the NRA's confidentiality agreement.

Copyright © 2010 Media Matters Action Network. All rights reserved.