Presidential hopeful Herman Cain claimed Tuesday he is being attacked with claims of sexual harassment due to a “relentless” campaign to keep an effective businessman out of the White House.
The former pizza magnate said he had never acted improperly with any woman – and didn’t even remember Sharon Bialek, the ex-employee who came forward publicly with claims he groped her in his car when he was head of the National Restaurant Association..
He made his comments during a press conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. in which he repeatedly said he had never acted inappropriately towards anyone.
But he said he is expecting more women to come out of the woodwork with accusations against him.
“There will probably be others because the machine to keep a businessman out of the White House is going to be relentless,” he said.
“The American people want a businessman to be president, and a businessman by the name of Herman Cain has stepped forward. Here I am.”
But the firestorm surrounding his campaign showed no sign of abating as another accuser, Karen Kraushaar – whose name was revealed on Tuesday after nine days of anonymity – gave an interview to The New York Times. Kraushaar was paid tens of thousands of dollars to quit her job with the association after accusing Cain.
That interview is unlikely to reflect favorably on Cain. The Times put a part of it on its blog The Caucus within minutes of the press conference ending. “When you are being sexually harassed in the workplace you are extremely vulnerable,” Kraushaar said.
“You do whatever you can to quickly get yourself into a job someplace safe, and that is what I thought I had achieved when I left.”
And Maria Cardona, who hired Kraushaar immediately after she left the restaurant association, told CNN that Kraushaar referred to Cain as “that monster,” and thanked her for saving her from him by giving her a job. Cardona also said that Kraushaar’s accusations are “very similar,” to Bialek’s “and they happened repeatedly.”
Cain appeared before the press after more than a week of avoiding direct questions. He was introduced by his attorney, Lin Wood, whose former clients have included the parents of murdered child JonBenet Ramsey, former Rep. Gary Condit, accused Atlanta Olympics bomber Richard Jewell and a 19-year-old who accused basketball star Kobe Bryant of sexual assault.
“I have never acted inappropriately with anyone, period,” Cain said repeatedly.
Often referring to himself in the third person, Cain reiterated his claim that the only accusation he had heard was that Kraushaar had complained because he told her she was the same height as his wife, Gloria. He said that incident happened in his office while the door was open and his secretary was seated outside.
But Cain insisted her accusation of harassment was found to be baseless. “She could not find anyone to corroborate her story,” he said. Kraushaar was given around a year’s salary to quit her job. Cain said he knew there was an agreement, although he denied there was a settlement.
“I have been criticized for changing my story,” Cain said. “When the firestorm first started I was presented with the statement that a settlement had been made. Later on that same day I recalled that there had been an agreement – a settlement implies legal implications.”
He said he saw Bialek give her press conference on Monday while sitting in his hotel room in San Francisco. “My first response was ‘I don’t know who this woman is,’” he said. “My second was that I didn’t recognize her name at all.
“I tried to remember if I recognized her and I didn’t. I tried to remember if I recognized the name and I did not,” he said.
He said he rejected her accusations that he secretly upgraded her hotel room, took her for drinks and an Italian meal and then tried to put his hand up her skirt as they sat in his car. “They simply did not happen,” he said.
“The Democratic machine has brought forward a troubled woman to make statements, many of which exceed common sense and exceed the standards of decency in America,” he claimed.
Cain said his family is still behind his run for the presidency. “I have been married for 43 years to my wife Gloria. After watching the press conference yesterday I called her and I said, ‘Sweetheart did you see it? What did you think?’
“My wife said I have known you for 46 years. That doesn’t sound like anything you would do to anyone.”
Cain made it clear that he has no intention of quitting the race for the Republican nomination for the White House. “Was it tough last week? – yes. Has it been tough this last couple of days? – yes. But there is one thing about Herman Cain the American people know. Just because it is tough doesn’t mean I won’t do what I have to.
"As far as these accusations causing me to back off and maybe withdraw from this primary race – ain't gonna happen, because I am doing this for the American people and for the children and the grandchildren."
Cain said he recognized that sexual harassment is a serious matter, “and respect for women and people I have worked with has been a top priority,” he insisted.
In a question-and-answer session with reporters after reading his prepared statement, Cain said he would be prepared to take a lie detector test in a bid to prove his innocence, but then he said he would only do that if he was presented with “facts not accusations.”
Cain said it was "a remote possibility" when asked if it were possible he would recall Bialek's alleged incident in the future.
"I seriously doubt I'm going to have an 'a-ha' moment later," Cain said.
Prominent Republicans pressed for a full accounting.
"Get all the facts in front of people, otherwise he's going to have this continuing distraction," Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman with deep ties to the GOP establishment, told MSNBC.
Though recent polling shows Cain still doing well, party operatives suggested it was only a matter of time before his political standing could suffer.
"Herman's base is going to stick with him," said Republican strategist Rick Tyler, Newt Gingrich's former spokesman. "But the average Republican voter who is not as engaged as intensely in the race, is sick of this and, for Cain, the concern is they will pass on it and pass on him."
Cain looked to keep those supporters in his corner.
"We are not going to allow Washington or politics to deny me the opportunity to represent this great nation," he said.
"As far as these accusations causing me to back off and maybe withdraw from this presidential primary race? Ain't gonna happen. Because I'm doing this for the American people, and the children and the grandchildren."
Cain spoke at a hotel on the outskirts of Phoenix, where reporters crowded a small room. Outside, protesters waved signs that read: "Hey Herman. How many more women will you be calling liars?"
There were growing signs of unease in conservative circles as the Georgia businessman tried to stem the controversy in its second week.
"If there is a pattern then it's a part of his character and then, yes, it is going to matter," Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Center, said in an interview.
An upstart in the presidential race, Cain shot to the top of opinion polls and emerged in recent weeks as Romney's main conservative opponent, with tea party activists and other conservatives flocking to the former pizza company executive's tell-it-like-it-is style and outsider image.
But he's spent the past 10 days battling accusations from women that he acted inappropriately toward them while he headed of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.
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