A top aide to Republican presidential contender Herman Cain’s campaign backed off accusations blaming rival Rick Perry for reviving years-old allegations of sexual harassment against the candidate, though Cain later suggested he still suspects the Texas governor’s campaign.
Cain campaign manager Mark Block said on Fox News today he accepts the denial of Perry strategist Curt Anderson, who Cain previously said leaked the allegations to the news media.
“All the evidence we had pointed to Mr. Anderson being the source,” Block said on Fox News. “We are absolutely thrilled that he came on your show said it wasn’t him. Mr. Cain has always had the utmost respect for him.”
Cain, in an interview later in on Sean Hannity’s talk radio show, said when asked if he thought Perry’s campaign peddled the harassment story: “Let’s just say, there aren’t enough breadcrumbs that we can lay down that leads us anywhere else at this point in time.”
Perry, in an interview on CNN tonight, said “our campaign didn’t have anything to do” with the leak.
Asked what would happen if he learned any aide was involved, Perry said that person would be “out the door.”
Prominent Republican Party figures, including Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, urged Cain yesterday to lift confidentiality restrictions on two women who accused him of harassment during his leadership of the National Restaurant Association. Cain has said the harassment charges are false.
Rise in Polls
Cain’s personal life came under scrutiny as he claimed a lead among Republicans seeking the 2012 presidential nomination, with some surveys placing him ahead of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney among Republican voters nationally. The resolution of the harassment questions could reshape the party’s contest two months before the Iowa caucuses start the nomination process on Jan. 3.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said this morning on NBC’s “Today” show that “this issue and other issues are going to come and go” and that the controversy wouldn’t harm the party’s chances of winning the White House next year. Referring to Cain’s earlier claim that the tip about the harassment allegations came from Perry’s campaign, Priebus said it wasn’t his role to be the “referee in here.”
“We’re not the Sherlock Holmes of the presidential primary field,” he told NBC.
In an interview with Forbes magazine earlier this week, Cain accused Anderson, a former consultant to his unsuccessful 2004 Senate campaign in Georgia, of leaking the damaging information. Cain said he had discussed the charges with then- consultant Anderson during a conversation about opposition research.
“I don’t recall anyone else being in the room when I told him,” Cain said of Anderson.
Anderson said yesterday he had never heard about the charges until they were reported earlier this week by Politico.
“I have great respect for Herman and his character and I would never speak ill of him, on the record or off the record,” he said in a statement.
The Perry campaign also released a statement denying any involvement in leaking the story.
“There is not one shred of evidence that any member of the Perry campaign had anything to do with the recent stories regarding Herman Cain -- because it isn’t true,” Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan said in the statement. “We first learned of the Cain accusations when we read the story in the news.”
As Cain, 65, was pressed to disclose more about his past, a picture emerged of the former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza operating in a free-wheeling, free-spending culture during his 1996-99 tenure as chief executive officer of the restaurant association.
Former employees of the association told Bloomberg News that work-related outings frequently featured heavy drinking as lobbyists entertained board members and lawmakers.
Cain was known for lavish spending, they said, racking up cell phone and travel bills that drew accountants’ attention and angered some board members. He won over employees by giving generous raises to many, said three people who worked for or with the group and spoke on condition of anonymity.
There were few checks on Cain’s travel budget as he traveled to chapters across the country, said one former employee.
“I was on the road a lot -- one year, I gave 80 speeches,” Cain said in an Oct. 31 interview on Fox News. “Went to nearly every state because they would have a state restaurant association meeting.”
As he traveled the country for the group, Cain boosted spending on communications back in Washington, following a strategy he called “Mo-Me-Mo” -- for mobilization, messaging and momentum -- said Steve Caldeira, president of the International Franchise Association and Cain’s deputy at the restaurant group. “He built the foundation to make the NRA a major economic voice and force,” Caldeira said.
In Cain’s first full year at the restaurant association, the group broke into Fortune Magazine’s “Power 25” of trade associations. When he left in 1999, it was ranked number 10, ahead of the American Medical Association and the Teamsters.
With his family in Georgia, the organization paid for Cain to live in the Jefferson, a luxury hotel near the White House, for a period of time, according to a former employee. The Cain campaign didn’t respond to questions about his spending.
Yesterday, a third woman told the Associated Press that she considered filing a complaint against Cain for what she considered aggressive behavior, including inviting her back to his corporate apartment. Two other women at the restaurant association accused Cain of sexual harassment and were paid settlements for their claims, Politico reported on Oct. 30.
A Republican pollster who worked for the restaurant association said yesterday that Cain sexually harassed a low- level staffer he described as “maybe two years out of college” at an Arlington, Virginia, restaurant.
“Everybody was aware of it,” said Chris Wilson, a principal of an Oklahoma-based political consulting firm that is working for a group supporting the Perry campaign, in an interview with KTOK radio in Oklahoma City. “So many people were aware of her situation, the fact she left. Everybody knew with the campaign that this would eventually come up.”
Wilson declined to offer further details to Bloomberg News about the incident, and said he didn’t leak the story to the media.
“I had nothing to do with leaking this in any way, and I’ve never discussed or share this story with any of my clients -- period,” he said in an e-mail.
Cain, in his comments to Hannity, denied Wilson’s harassment claim. He also said: “For him to say stuff like that, there again, where’s the documentation? Where’s the proof? They don’t have any.”
Cain has offered conflicting answers to questions about the allegations. In a speech at the National Press Club on Oct. 31, he said he was unaware of any financial settlement of sexual harassment claims against him. On Nov. 1, Cain told CNN that the association paid a woman “somewhere in the vicinity of three to six months’ pay” after she complained about him.
Former employees say the organization paid one female staffer a year’s salary -- $35,000 -- in severance after she complained about Cain’s behavior. The second woman, now a spokeswoman for a federal agency in Washington, received $45,000, according to a report today by Politico.
Both women signed confidentiality agreements that barred them from discussing the incidents.
Joel Bennett, a Washington-based lawyer for one of the accusers, told Bloomberg News that he sent a request today to the restaurant association’s lawyer to free his client from the agreement.
If the association agrees, Bennett plans to release a public statement on behalf of his client, who would remain anonymous.
“She’s a private person and she wants to move on with her life,” he said. “She has no desire to be a public figure.”
Sue Hensley, senior vice president for public affairs at the organization, said her group would respond to the request tomorrow.
Party officials urged Cain to encourage the association to free the women from their agreement, warning that secrecy will only prolong the scandal -- and its political impact. The AP story on the claim by a third woman was on the front page of today’s Des Moines Register, the state’s largest newspaper.
“What are the facts?” Barbour asked on MSNBC. “If there’s some controversy with negative connotations, you want to get all the facts out, all the cards on the table face up as quickly as you can.”
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