The strategy of ignoring the allegations of sexual impropriety has been tabled by the Cain campaign.  Instead, Herman Cain will hold a press conference at 5 ET today from Phoenix to address the new charge from Sharon Bielak that emerged yesterday as she became the first to go public with an accusation of, well, unprofessional conduct at the least.  In announcing the press conference, Cain’s spokesman went after both Bielak and her attorney, Gloria Allred:

In a news release announcing Cain’s Phoenix press conference, his campaign took aim at Bialek’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, suggesting her involvement is suspicious.

“It is noteworthy that Gloria Allred is a celebrity lawyer who specializes in generating publicity for herself and her clients,” J.D. Gordon, a spokesman for Cain, said. “Ms. Allred is a high-profile Democrat[ic] Party donor and activist who has given over ten thousand dollars to liberal Democrats like Barack Obama, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.”

“The questions the media should be asking are who’s paying for Gloria Allred’s fee, how did Ms. Bialek get introduced to Ms. Allred, and was she paid to come forward with these false accusations or was she promised employment?” Gordon said.

Cain’s campaign says he has never sexually harassed anyone. “After attacking Herman Cain through anonymous accusers for a week, his opponents have now convinced a woman with a long history of severe financial difficulties, including personal bankruptcy, to falsely accuse the Republican frontrunner of events occurring over a decade ago for which there is no record, nor even a complaint filed,” Gordon said.

Ironically or not, Gordon himself made a very public claim of sexual harassment in 2009 against a Miami Herald reporter, while serving as a spokesman for the US Navy.  The claim went nowhere, and it provides a strange twist on the new strategy that Cain and his team are deploying in this statement by attacking Bielak over her bankruptcies.  The first preceded her time at the National Restaurant Association, which would then prompt a question for Cain why his organization hired her at all if that was a significant dent in her overall credibility.  More to the point, though, what do two bankruptcies have to do with the incident Bielak described?  Either it happened or it didn’t, and the bankruptcies are immaterial to determining which is the case.  Honest people can have financial failures, and at the moment, she doesn’t seem to have a financial problem that would require her to make a bundle off of a National Enquirer story, either.

ABC and other media outlets are reporting that she’s not taking any money for her story, although that could certainly change:

Sharon Bialek, the woman who went public Monday with an accusation that GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain had sexually harassed her in 1997, said today that despite questions raised by Cain’s campaign, she was not financially compensated for speaking out.

“I was not paid to come forward, nor was I promised any employment. Nothing at all,” Bialek said on ABC News’ “Good Morning America”. “I’m just doing this because it’s the right thing to do.”

If her story holds up, it won’t be worth all that much cash anyway.  It would only be salable while Cain remains a prominent figure in the presidential race, and Bielak’s story might put that to an end, especially if more stories come out from women willing to go on the record.  As for who’s paying Allred, that’s an interesting question — but it’s possible that Allred is doing this pro bono for the publicity she’s reaping from it. What if that turns out to be the case?  Making an accusation without having any evidence to back it up created a very embarrassing moment for Cain and his campaign last week, and they may be setting themselves up for another this week.

On the other hand, Bielak seemed at ease enough with Cain to get a hug at the TeaCon Midwest event a month ago, according to one of the hosts of the event:

They hugged each other backstage in a full embrace like old friends.

She grabbed his arm and whispered in his left ear.

She kept talking as he bent to listen, and he kept saying “Uh, huh. Uh, huh.”

Huh? …

The Sneed source … is WIND radio co-host Amy Jacobson, who tells Sneed she witnessed the Cain/Bialek encounter a month ago while backstage at the AM 560 WIND sponsored TeaCon meeting in Schaumburg Sept. 30-Oct. 1 at the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center.

That actually corroborates Bielak’s own account.  She says that she wanted to confront Cain over the incident, and that she did.  Jacobson says she couldn’t tell whether Bielak was being “flirtatious” or giving Cain the “kiss of death,” but noted that Bielak was “inches away from his ear” during the encounter.  (Full disclosure: WIND is a Salem Radio affiliate, and is owned by Hot Air’s parent company Salem Communications.)

Speaking of putting names on the record, at least one more former colleague of Cain described an uncomfortable situation to the conservative Washington Examiner, in which Cain asked her to arrange a meeting with an attractive woman who asked Cain a question during his presentation:

A former employee of the United States Agency for International Development says Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain asked her to help arrange a dinner date for him with a female audience member following a speech he delivered nine years ago.

Donna Donella, 40, of Arlington, said the USAID paid Cain to deliver a speech to businessmen and women in Egypt in 2002, during which an Egyptian businesswoman in her 30s asked Cain a question.

“And after the seminar was over,” Donella told The Washington Examiner, “Cain came over to me and a colleague and said, ‘Could you put me in touch with that lovely young lady who asked the question, so I can give her a more thorough answer over dinner?'”

Donella, who no longer works for USAID, said they were suspicious of Cain’s motives and declined to set up the date. Cain responded, “Then you and I can have dinner.” That’s when two female colleagues intervened and suggested they all go to dinner together, Donella said.

That’s not the same thing as sexual harassment, very obviously, but it does suggest — if true — a tendency toward the inappropriate in Herman Cain.  At some point, the sheer volume of allegations, especially from people willing to go on the record and provide details of the incidents, will have conservatives asking if Cain is worth supporting as a candidate, even while they defend him from what they see as unfair treatment.  In my column for The Week today, I ask whether we may have reached that tipping point:

This accusation leaves no room for misinterpretation, and no possibility of misunderstanding. There is no media filter for conservatives to criticize. A married man should not put his hand up the skirt of another woman under any circumstances, nor pull the head of another woman toward his lap, especially not when that action is unwelcome. Doing so as a condition of granting assistance in finding a job may not constitute sexual harassment in a workplace environment, but it undeniably would equate to demanding sexual favors by exploiting a serious power differential.

Cain vehemently denies that any of this took place. His campaign issued a statement that said, “All allegations against Mr. Cain are completely false. … [A]ctivist celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred is bringing forth more false accusations against the character of Republican frontrunner Herman Cain.” …

Republican voters may well decide that they don’t need to settle this to a moral certainty. They like Cain. But is Cain so indispensable that voters will be willing to risk more shoes dropping in a general election? We may already be seeing evidence that they will cut Cain loose and look for another candidate. Peggy Nance of Concerned Women for America put out a statement late Monday calling for Cain to “address these new allegations head on,” clearly unsatisfied with the terse denial from him earlier in the day. Nance wrote that “Ms. Bialek appeared credible and I was very disturbed by her characterization” of the alleged incident. Thee Des Moines Register‘s Jennifer Jacobs reported that while Cain’s most passionate supporters are remaining loyal, some of them are also calling for Cain to be more forthcoming. Bob Vander Plaats, president of the social conservative activist group Family Leader in the state and a Republican candidate for governor in 2010, called this a “tipping point for the viability of his campaign.”

In court, Cain would not have to prove his innocence, but on the campaign trail, he has to prove his superiority over the other choices. Cain’s argument for winning the nomination has always been novel — that his lack of electoral experience would be eclipsed by his problem-solving abilities and his expertise at rescue strategies in the private sector. Voters who might have been tempted to take a risk on Cain could decide that the inability to foresee or effectively handle the crises of the past several days makes that argument moot, or just figure that they don’t need to take that much risk of more scandal with an untested novelty candidate.

There are other Republicans vying for this nomination, including a couple with at least as much conservative credibility as Cain.  In his press conference today, Cain will not only have to make the argument that he’s innocent with something more than Bielak’s bankruptcies and Allred’s invoices, but that conservatives have no reason to fear that more of these stories won’t surprise them later in the cycle — especially in a general election.  The risk/reward calculation may have already tipped too far toward the “risk” end for some, and a response that doesn’t appreciably improve on last week’s debacle will lose Republican voters for good.

Update: Via Katrina Trinko at The Corner, the Cain campaign sent out this lengthy statement attacking Bielak:

As Ms. Sharon Bialek has placed herself in the public spotlight through making patently false allegations against Herman Cain, it is only fair to compare her track record alongside Mr. Cain’s.

In stark contrast to Mr. Cain’s four decades spent climbing the corporate ladder rising to the level of CEO at multiple successful business enterprises, Ms. Bialek has taken a far different path.

The fact is that Ms. Bialek has had a long and troubled history, from the courts to personal finances – which may help explain why she has come forward 14 years after an alleged incident with Mr. Cain, powered by celebrity attorney and long term Democrat donor Gloria Allred.

In the courts, Ms. Bialek has had a lengthy record in the Cook County Court system over various civil lawsuits. The following cases on file in Cook County are:

·         2000-M1-707461 Defendant against Broadcare Management

·         2000-M1-714398 Defendant in lawsuit against Broadcare Management

·         2000-M1-701522 Defendant in lawsuit against Broadcare Management

·         2005-M1-111072 Defendant in lawsuit against Mr. Mark Beatovic.

·         2007-M1-189176 Defendant in lawsuit against Midland Funding.

·         2009-M1-158826 Defendant in lawsuit against Illinois Lending.

Ms. Bialek was also sued in 1999 over a paternity matter according to ABC 7 Chicago (WLS-TV).  Source: WLS-TV, November 7, 2011

In personal finances, PACER (Federal Court) records show that Ms. Bialek has filed forbankruptcy in the Northern District of Illinois bankruptcy court in 1991 and 2001. The respective case numbers according to the PACER system are 1:01-bk-22664 and 1:91-bk-23273.

Ms. Bialek has worked for nine employers over the last seventeen years. Source: WLS-TV, November 7, 2011

Curiously, if Ms. Bialek had intended to take legal action, the statute of limitations would have passed a decade ago.

Which brings up the question of why she would make such reprehensible statements now?

The questions should be – who is financing her legal team, have any media agreed to pay for her story, and has she been offered employment for taking these actions?

As the first commenter on Trinko’s post retorts, this is all rather non-responsive:

And not one single statement of fact regarding the alleged incident. Did they have a meeting? Did they have dinner? Did Cain change the reservation? Were they in a car together, alone? Not one single rebuttal. All we get is the usual Clintonesque attack on the personal life of the woman. Have we all seen this movie before? Do we know how it turns out? Will we ultimately be relieved that this vetting of Cain happens in the primary, when there is time to correct course, as opposed to the general? This will be what is presented at the “news conference” this afternoon.

I imagine that Cain will have specific rebuttal points at the presser — or at least he’d better have them.  If all they want to do is talk about Bielak’s history in court, we’re likely to have uncomfortable reminiscences about the treatment Paula Jones got at the hands of Bill Clinton’s defenders and the media.