Herman Cain acknowledged today that he was accused of sexual harassment more than a decade ago but insisted that the claims were “baseless.”
Speaking on Fox News, the Republican presidential candidate said he was unaware that payments had been made to two women who claimed that he had harassed them when he headed the National Restaurant Association.
And Cain told Fox’s Jenna Lee that there are no more skeletons in his closet. “If more allegations come, I assure you, people will simply make them up,” he said. “The only other allegations will be trumped-up allegations. There’s nothing else."
Cain, who is running neck and neck with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, was speaking for the first time about allegations that surfaced during the weekend and threatened to derail his campaign.
Politico reported on Sunday that two employees claimed that sexually suggestive behavior by Cain had made them “angry and uncomfortable.” The two employees reportedly signed agreements giving them financial payouts, and they left the association. Cain was president and CEO of the association from late 1996 to 1999.
The website said that it had tried to get comment from Cain’s campaign for 10 days without success and eventually confronted the candidate on the street outside CBS News’ Washington bureau after he had appeared on “Face the Nation” on Sunday morning.
Cain evaded questions before turning it on reporter Jonathan Martin, asking, “Have you ever been accused, sir, in your life of harassment by a woman?”
Details of the nature of the alleged harassment are unclear. Martin told MSNBC that Cain supposedly invited one of the women to his hotel room but would not go into any further detail.
Cain's campaign spent much of Sunday waffling on the claims. Spokesman J.D. Gordon called into Geraldo Rivera’s Fox News show claiming the Politico story, which did not name the women, nor identify most of its sources, “doesn’t hold any weight.”
Even when the veteran reporter told him the story would play a major role in the campaign, Gordon just called it “a scare campaign.”
On Monday, Cain declined to answer a question on the matter asked during an early morning appearance at the American Enterprise Institute, saying he would stick to ground rules that had been agreed beforehand.
During his Fox News interview, Cain insisted, “I have never sexually harassed anyone. Yes, I was falsely accused while I was at the National Restaurant Association — and I say falsely because it turned out after the investigation to be baseless."
When asked about the payments to the women, Cain said, “I wasn’t even aware of it, and I hope it wasn’t for much because nothing happened.”
Cain acknowledged that the revelations could harm his chances of winning the GOP nomination.
“Obviously some people are going to be turned off by this cloud that someone wanted to put over my campaign,” he said. “But a lot of people aren’t going to be turned off. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
During a lunchtime appearance at the National Press Club, Cain reiterated his assertion that the women’s claims were baseless.
When asked whether he thought the accusation had been leaked from a rival campaign, he said, “I told you this bull’s eye on my back has gotten bigger — I have no idea. We have no idea the source of this witch hunt, which is really what it is.”
Pundits suggested that the allegations against Cain could put a serious dent in his hopes of securing the presidential nomination, especially as his team has been perceived as mishandling the accusations.
Former Democratic Rep. Martin Frost of Texas told MSNBC, “When you play in the majors, you have to be able to hit the curve ball, and they haven’t shown that they can hit anything.”
Donald Trump called the accusations “very unfair" during an interview on Fox News. He said the restaurant association could have paid the women off to save costly court fees. “They settle it on the basis that it's a lot cheaper and quicker and no publicity, no nothing, and they settle it, and then it ends up blowing up in his face. I think it's very unfair."
Brent Bozell of the conservative Media Research Council attacked Politico’s Kenneth Vogel, one of four bylines on the article, pointing out that he used to work for George Soros’ Center for Public Integrity.
“In the eyes of the liberal media, Herman Cain is just another uppity black American who has had the audacity to leave the liberal plantation. So they must destroy him, just as they tried destroying Clarence Thomas," said Bozell, referring to the Supreme Court justice who was subjected to lurid accusations of harassment during his confirmation hearings two decades ago.
Fox News commentator and Democratic pollster Doug Schoen told Newsmax it is hard to say how badly Cain’s campaign will be affected — and it could depend on whether either of the women comes forward with her story. “But it certainly can’t help, that’s for sure,” he added.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who led the Republican field for a time during the 2008 campaign, said it is almost certain that a rival campaign leaked the allegations to Politico. He also got a dig in at the Politico report during an interview on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. "Quite frankly, knowing some of the reporters involved — they're not that good," Huckabee said.
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