National Restaurant Association chairman during Cain’s tenure: ‘It’s a hatchet job’

David Martosko Executive Editor
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In an interview with The Daily Caller, former National Restaurant Association board chairman Joseph Fassler offered a firm defense of GOP presidential front-runner Herman Cain, along with an explanation for how Washington’s best-kept secret — the identities of Cain’s sexual-harassment accusers — was also kept from the association’s board.

“The accusations? It’s a hatchet job, in my opinion,” Fassler told TheDC from his Phoenix, Ariz. office. “My gut tells me it’s a hatchet job. He gets a lead, he gets some traction, and the next thing you know, here come these allegations. It’s sad.”

Fassler said his four years in leadership positions on the association’s board — including one year as chairman and another as past chairman — overlapped with two and one-half years of Cain’s time as CEO. Fassler was first elected to the board in 1984, and was chairman in 1997.

While he said he had no reason to doubt the accuracy of reports that the restaurant trade group made five-figure payments to employees then embroiled in what is now a campaign scandal, Fassler said he was never informed about those payments while on the board.

Politico reported late Thursday that one of Cain’s accusers, then a 30-year-old female government-affairs staffer, reported an allegation of sexual harassment to an NRA board member within hours of what she said was an improper sexual overture.

Fassler’s account, however, either questions the accuracy of this account or suggests a communications failure among board members.

He told TheDC that he “never heard anything about Herman that would suggest he had those sort of allegations lodged against him. He was a professional. Thoroughly professional.”

Severance agreements, he said, were — and remain — “common” in human resource management. “You offer people severance agreements, unless they are for cause, all the time,” he said.

At the National Restaurant Association, Fassler explained, complaints about workplace behavior were referred to the human resources department. “Then HR would bring it to the legal department. If it was about someone in a particular job, I imagine the complaint would have gone to his boss.”

The board of directors is the CEO’s “boss,” of course.

Asked why no complaint about Herman Cain ever reached the board, Fassler put the episode in perspective, essentially seeing the amount of money involved as small-potatoes.

“This agreement? If it was of a major magnitude, I would have been shocked to not have known about it. So my takeaway was that it must not have been of a major magnitude,” he told TheDC.

Fassler drew a clear distinction between legal settlements for significant amounts of money and routine severance packages that would normally be handled far beneath the board’s level of responsibility.

“At the association, people had a level of authority — an amount of money that they can spend before they have to bring it to the board [for approval],” he explained. “In this case, if it was over their authority level — and I don’t remember what that level was — they would have to bring it to the executive committee [of the board].

“If it’s a routine matter, they don’t have to bring it to us. We never got it, so it was a routine matter.”

Fassler’s memories of Cain, he said, were all positive. He called the GOP front-runner a smart businessman, and said that even 15 years ago, the Georgia pizza mogul had a grasp of government policy and routine that was stronger than most of his peers.

“Herman, during those days, did a very good job of getting our message heard on the Hill,” Fassler said.

“He’s a very expressive communicator, very affable. People enjoy listening to his speeches. He’s very entertaining, and in my mind a very factual-oriented person.”

David is The Daily Caller’s executive editor. Follow him on Twitter