Karen Kraushaar, the most recent woman to be identified in the Herman Cain sexual harassment scandal, is a career communications specialist in the Treasury Department. She is a 55-year-old Brown graduate with a master’s degree from the University of Michigan. She has been married to the same man for 26 years, and maintains close ties to her extended family in the Washington area. Former colleagues describe Kraushaar as a “consummate professional” and “model employee.”
In other words, Kraushaar’s reputation is not going to succumb easily to the efforts by the Cain campaign to discredit her and her 12-year-old complaint of being sexually harassed by the Republican presidential candidate. Cain has called Kraushaar’s claim and that of three other women “baseless,” and has variously suggested they are lying or have allowed themselves to become pawns in a Democratic and media conspiracy to suppress his momentum in the polls.
But Kraushaar’s professional background does not fit the portrait of a “troubled woman,” as Cain has depicted another one of his accusers, and does not support the notion that she may be a left-leaning activist engaging in some political dirty work.
Kraushaar has a 33-year work record with federal agencies and media outlets in Washington, according to former co-workers and supervisors. Her specialty is media relations, and her most celebrated assignment was representing the now defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service during the national controversy in 2000 over Cuban refugee Elián González, whose father tried to return him to Cuba against the wishes of family members in South Florida.
Maria Cardona, who was the INS communications director at the time, said of Kraushaar, “When I needed somebody to go down to Miami to be the face of INS, to be explaining the incredibly difficult decisions that we were making on this case, in really Ground Zero for this issue in how it was affecting the Cuban community, I chose Karen to do it. And I didn’t make that decision lightly.”
Eric Andrus, who worked in the INS press office with Kraushaar in the mid-1990s, said, “Karen was someone I fully trusted and was just really happy to have as part of the staff. … She is very articulate. She’s a good writer and a quick writer. And she was dedicated to serving the agency.”
Andrus says Kraushaar’s background as a journalist made her valuable in a public affairs capacity. She started her career in Washington as an intern in the Detroit News Washington Bureau, and eventually was hired on at States News Service, where she rose to deputy managing editor. She later went to Thomson Newspapers as a Washington correspondent and national education writer.
Bill Sternberg, a Washington former bureau chief for Thomson, supervised Kraushaar for two years in the mid-1990s. “She was a talented reporter and writer. Tough-minded, but fair. And she certainly always conducted herself professionally,” said Sternberg, now deputy editorial page editor of USA Today.
In 1998, Kraushaar was hired by the National Restaurant Association as director of media relations. Before long, she encountered what her attorney Joel Bennett has described as “a series of inappropriate behaviors and unwanted advances from the CEO,” who at the time was Cain. Kraushaar brought a sexual harassment complaint against Cain and wound up leaving the trade group in 1999 with a $45,000 settlement. The association recently acknowledged the settlement and said Cain was not a party to it.
Kraushaar went to work at the INS, and was soon deeply involved in the Elián González case. She later joined the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent agency within the Internal Revenue Service, as a senior communications analyst. In 2010, she became the communications director for the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration.
Cardona and Andrus said that Kraushaar is a private person who in their view would not willingly get involved in a highly charged case like the one surrounding Cain. “That’s one of the reasons why she doesn’t want to come out publicly, by herself, to be talking on a microphone,” said Cardona, referring to conversations the two have had recently. “She’s said to me, ‘I wasn’t raised that way. This is not something that you talk about publicly. It’s embarrassing.’”
She also has not been particularly active politically. National Public Radio reported that she is a registered Republican and views herself as an independent. According to Federal Election Commission records, she has given a single political contribution in recent years: $250 to the Democratic National Committee. Kraushaar also gave modest amounts to Republican candidates.
Her husband, Kevin Kraushaar, a lawyer and lobbyist, has been a more prolific donor, giving money to both Democratic and Republican candidates, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. during his 2008 presidential bid.
One aspect of Kraushaar’s career getting attention is a complaint she filed at the INS after a supervisor refused to let her work at home following a car accident. She also alleged in that complaint that a manager had circulated a sexually charged email, according to a Nov. 9 Associated Press story. Kraushaar dropped the complaint in late 2002 or early 2003.
Kraushaar declined to be interviewed for this story. She said through her attorney that she would not discuss her experience with Cain publicly unless the other two unidentified women who are known to have complained about Cain agree to share their stories as well.
One woman, Sharon Bialek of Chicago, put a face and a name behind her claims of an unwanted sexual advance by Cain in 1997 by describing the incident at a Nov. 7 press conference. The next day, the Cain campaign put out a statement listing civil lawsuits Bialek had been involved in, including personal bankruptcy filings and an old custody dispute over her son, now 13. Cain described Bialek publicly as “troubled” without being specific about what that meant.