Cain: In my opinion, I did nothing inappropriate

Not the only maybe-interesting-maybe-not hedge from tonight’s PBS interview. Business Insider highlights this exchange as evidence that the scandal’s still alive:

JUDY WOODRUFF: And there was some mention of a hotel room at a convention or at a meeting. Did any one of these women, were they ever asked to meet you, or….

HERMAN CAIN: That I absolutely do not recall. You know, I have no recollection of that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Was there any behavior on your part that you think might have been inappropriate?

HERMAN CAIN: In my opinion, no. But as you would imagine, it’s in the eye of the person who thinks that maybe I crossed the line.

One of the difficulties of this story is trying to gauge whether an unpolished, inexperienced non-pol like Cain is capable of slick deceitful parsing or whether, as usual, he’s simply winging it and stumbling into inartful phrasing that raises doubts inadvertently. Remember, this is a guy who’s had to explain his position on abortion five or six times over the last few weeks because he couldn’t get through an unmuddled answer. Maybe he really doesn’t recall what happened back then and doesn’t want to get caught in a “lie” if it turns out he had a business meeting with one of the accusers in his hotel room. Maybe he’s being precise about his “opinion” because his lawyers warned him that there’s some sort of nondisparagement clause in the settlements that discourages him from asserting that his accusers are liars. Or maybe he’s much craftier than we all think and really is engaged in a bit of Clintonian hedging here. It’s hard enough determining the truth when we have so few facts, but when the candidate himself is a question mark, it’s impossible.

Actually, his whole campaign is a question mark. Politico notes tonight that Team Cain has executed a flip-flop-flip on whether they knew about the settlements. This afternoon Cain said he did but this morning he said he didn’t. When Politico asked his spokesman a week ago, this was the answer:

It’s difficult – if not impossible – to explain Cain’s reversal from earlier Monday, when he said he wasn’t familiar with cash payouts, period, with his later admission that he had discussed terms of settlement with the NRA’s general counsel.

In fact, Cain’s latest statements on Fox and PBS bear a close resemblance to his campaign’s first response to POLITICO when asked about harassment charges under his leadership. “This was settled amicably among all parties many years ago,” Cain’s spokesman told POLITICO over a week ago. He subsequently said he was not referring specifically to a legal settlement.

Hmmmm. Whatever the truth is, Cain also told PBS tonight that the settlement amount was so “minimal” that the NRA’s general counsel didn’t need to bring it to him for approval and resolved it on his own. (Cain’s exact words: “If I did — and I don’t think I did — I don’t even remember signing it because it was minimal in terms of what the agreement was.”) I’m thinking he must be telling the truth about that because it’d be too easy, and too damaging, to catch him if he’s lying. The numbers will come out sooner or later; if the settlement is near $100,000, this will blow up on him again. It must be a fairly modest amount, which strengthens the case that there’s more smoke here than fire.

Exit quotation from RCP political analyst Sean Trende: “The Cain story is almost certainly from an R campaign. The fact it is being dropped in Oct. suggests there is worse to come.”