Herman Cain is weighing a lawsuit over allegations he sexually harassed two women who worked for him at the National Restaurant Association, his chief of staff said Friday.
“It is being discussed, end of story,” Cain Chief of Staff Mark Block said on Fox News when asked whether the campaign would sue Politico for publishing a story about the allegations. He did not elaborate on what kind of legal action it might take, or on what grounds.
Politico Executive Editor Jim VandeHei dismissed the legal threat, telling The Washington Post that the Cain campaign has not made contact with his newspaper about legal action.
“We stand confidently behind every story Politico reporters have written on the topic,” VandeHei said in a news release.
The newspaper has said it relied on more than six sources for its reporting and gave Cain’s campaign 10 days to respond before publishing the story. It has not said whether those sources included the two women who reportedly received financial settlements after claiming sexual harassment by Cain.
Block said Friday that he and the campaign were finished discussing the allegations, calling the situation a cesspool created by the media.
“The Politico article was — if it was held up in the same standards as the code of ethics for journalism — the people involved with that would be fired,” he said.
But it is unclear what grounds Cain would have for seeking legal redress. While intense focus has been paid to whether the confidentiality clause in the settlement agreements has been violated either by Cain or the two women, Cain could not sue Politico for violating that agreement, because the news organization was not a party to it.
Cain could argue to a court that he had been defamed, but as a public figure, he would have to prove one of two things: that Politico knew the story was false and reported it anyway, or that it acted with reckless disregard for the truth — a difficult legal standard to prove.
If the allegations turn out to be true, a defamation suit would disintegrate. But for a court to come to a conclusion either way would require a public airing of the facts that would likely be uncomfortable for anyone seeking the presidential nomination.
“If he’s claiming it’s false, he definitely would be subject to examination,” said Charles Craver of The George Washington University Law School. “They’d be able to depose him. A lawyer would tell him he’s only going to open up a lot of doors he doesn’t want to open.”