If Herman Cain called me for advice

A hypothetical conversation: 

“Hello, Mr. Davis, this is Herman Cain. People tell me you combine the practice of law with crisis communications — I could use your help.”

“Sure, Mr. Cain — I’m a Democrat supporting President Obama, but I am willing to provide you advice. What’s the problem?”

“Well, I’ve been given 10 days to respond to a story that Politico says it is going to publish, stating that two women accused me of sexual harassment in the 1990s and my employer at the time, the National Restaurant Association, settled the cases. It’s all confidential. So what should I do?”

“My first question to you is, did you do it?”

“Well, my question to you is, did you ever engage in sexual harassment?” 

“No — but you didn’t answer my question.” 

“Why are you asking? Is it because you are a Democrat?” 

“Mr. Cain — people want to know what the facts are. If you don’t answer, they’ll just want to know more.”

“Well, are you asking me because I am black?”

“No, of course not. If it were John Edwards, I would have asked the same question.” 

“Well, maybe you’re asking because I am a conservative and you are a liberal.”

“No — I would give the same advice to a conservative.” 

“Well, OK — I can deny that I was guilty of any sexual harassment — that should satisfy everyone, shouldn’t it?”

“No, Mr. Cain — you need to answer all the possible questions, the five W’s — who, what, when, where and why.”

“Why should I? They only want to knock me down because I am the front-runner.”

 “My advice is the best way to end this story is to tell the truth — ‘Tell it all, tell it early, tell it yourself’ is my advice to everyone, unless that places you in criminal legal jeopardy. Can you do that?”

“I can’t — I am bound to abide by a confidentiality agreement, and I am not allowed to disclose anything.”

“Have you asked the National Restaurant Association to release you from the obligation to keep the settlement confidential?”

“No, I haven’t. But even if I did, the two women who claim there was a settlement agreement wouldn’t agree.”

“But one of them has an attorney who has already asked the association to allow her to speak out — so how can you use that as an excuse?”

“Hey, whose side are you on, anyway?”

“Actually, I am giving you advice that helps you put this story behind you — so you can continue your presidential campaign without all this distraction. Why won’t you do that?”

“Because I don’t want to give them the satisfaction. You saw what Rush and Laura said — this is all about race. Rush said it was about the mainstream media racially stereotyping and attacking a black conservative. Laura said it was an effort to put me in my place — in the back of the bus.”

“Wait a minute — then what was the motive for the disclosures about John Edwards? Did Rush or Laura think that was about white stereotyping?”

“You’re supposed to be giving me advice, not arguing with me!”

“So I have another question — if you continue as you are, and don’t ask for a release, and if the association is willing to give it to you, and you don’t answer all questions in detail, what do you think will happen?”

“Well, I figure, sooner or later, it will all just go away. Don’t you agree?”

“What will go away is your presidential candidacy — not the story.”

“Oh, come on — you think just like the vast left-wing conspiracy.”

Well, Mr. Cain — I have a kind of dubious honor to tell you about: Crisis Managers has a Hall of Fame for the top three worst-handled crises. They are: Richard Nixon-Watergate; Exxon Valdez oil spill; and, tied for third, the BP oil spill and the Japanese nuclear meltdown. And the consensus is you have just surged into a tie for first with Richard Nixon. 

“That is good news — at least I’m still the front-runner!” 

I guess you are. For now.

Davis, the principal in the Washington law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which also specializes in legal crisis management, served as President Clinton’s special counsel from 1996-98 and as a member of President George W. Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.  He is the author of the book Scandal: How “Gotcha” Politics Is Destroying America.