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Lawyer for Cain accuser seeks a waiver from confidentiality agreement to tell her story

at 02:15 PM ET, 11/02/2011

The lawyer for one of the women who reached a settlement agreement with the National Restaurant Association related to sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain contacted the group Wednesday and asked for a waiver of the confidentiality agreement that prohibits the woman from discussing the allegations.

Joel P. Bennett, who represents one of the two women who accused Cain of sexual harassment while he was head of the organization in the 1990s, reached out to the organization Wednesday morning, after suggesting that his client might want to tell her side of the story.

“Attorney Joel Bennett contacted the National Restaurant Association this morning. An Association representative promptly returned his call and asked Mr. Bennett to contact the Association’s outside counsel,” Sue Hensley, senior vice president of public affairs communications for the association, said in an e-mail statement. “Mr. Bennett indicated that he would do so tomorrow, after he met with his client.”

Bennett said that when he contacted the association to ask for a waiver of the confidentiality agreement, he was referred to outside counsel at the Washington law firm of Hogan Lovells.

Meanwhile, Cain took no questions from reporters on Capitol Hill as he met Wednesday with Rep. Michael C. Burgess’s Congressional Health Care Caucus, delivered brief remarks on health-care reform and took questions from the handful of Republican House members.

“As you can see, there is intense interest in health-care policy on the Republican side,” Burgess (R-Tex.) deadpanned as he introduced Cain to a packed room of more than 75 people, mostly reporters and congressional aides. Inside the room were a dozen camera operators, and outside were about two dozen more.

Burgess, who has declared his support for former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in the presidential race, said it’s “just hard to tell” whether the harassment allegations might be problematic enough to sink Cain’s campaign.

“I’m relatively new at this,” Burgess said. “I think he’s a good person with a good heart who’s doing what he thinks is the right thing, and from what I heard today, I’d have no problem if he’s the standard-bearer for our side.”

Earlier Wednesday in Northern Virginia, Cain refused to answer questions regarding the accusations by two women, only one of which he has acknowledged interacting with.

The 2012 Republican presidential candidate maintains that he has no recollection of a second accuser.

Surrounded by reporters after a speech about health care to doctors in Virginia, Cain refused to say whether he would ask the association to release the women from non-disclosure agreements barring them from describing them from describing the incidents more than a dozen years ago.

Cain told the reporters earlier Wednesday, according to the Associated Press: “Don’t even bother asking me all of these other questions that you all are curious about, okay? Don’t even bother.”

When reporters continued to ask questions, Cain continued, testily: “What did I say? Excuse me. Excuse me!”

Campaign manager Mark Block said he would answer questions posed “when it’s appropriate,” the AP reported.

Cain met later Wednesday afternoon with about four dozen House Republicans at the Capitol Hill Club just south of the House office buildings.

Members who attended the event said that it was not a fundraiser but rather a “meet-and-greet.”

Asked about the allegations Cain is facing, several lawmakers entering Wednesday’s event sounded a note of support for the candidate.

“You know how things swirl in the media,” Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said. “I know that you need to hear the facts, and I don’t think anybody knows what they are now. . . . It didn’t hurt his crowd, though. I mean, whatever allegations there are, there were a lot of congressmen in there.”

Rep. Marlin A. Stutzman (R-Ind.), a freshman who also attended the Romney event last week, said that he remains undecided in the presidential race and was looking forward to meeting Cain.

“Before I make a decision, I want to see him face-to-face, hear what they have to say, try to look into their eyes and see their sincerity,” he said.

Asked about the allegations facing Cain, Stutzman said he believed they’re a concern but noted that “those things play out through political campaigns.”

“I believe that’s what the process is for, and he’s going to have to answer, and I believe he will,” he said. “And whatever does prove out will prove, I think, the direction that his campaign goes.”

Meanwhile, the media circus continued with reports that Cain’s campaign is in talks with Fox News for a sit-down interview with his wife, Gloria, who has been largely absent from the campaign trail.

The network would not confirm those reports Wednesday afternoon.

Bennett initially told The Washington Post on Tuesday that his client wanted out of a non-disclosure agreement that she signed upon leaving the National Restaurant Association, where Cain served as president from 1996 through 1999.

“It is just frustrating that Herman Cain is going around bad-mouthing the two complainants, and my client is blocked by a confidentiality agreement,” Bennett said in that interview.

But later, one of the two women who accused Cain of sexual harassment indicated she might be having second thoughts about going public with her side of the story, according to her attorney and another person who knows her.

A second person familiar with the thinking of the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the woman is wary of the ramifications of her name becoming public.

The woman “did not create this story,” the person said. She has been “completely swept up in this hurricane” and is discussing with her husband and family whether to make her story public.

Cain and other conservatives have suggested that the claims are racially and politically motivated, though the former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive said he has no evidence to back up that claim.

The woman is a federal employee barred from political activities by the Hatch Act, Bennett said. According to public records, she is married to a registered lobbyist who is a registered Republican and has donated to both Democratic and Republican political candidates.

Tuesday night, on CNN, Bennett seemed to back off his earlier comments to The Post. In a telephone interview with CNN host Anderson Cooper, Bennett said the woman was “mulling over what she wants to do” and apparently was undecided about going public. “She’s naturally been upset about it.”

After the CNN interview, Bennett did not return e-mails or phone calls from The Post.

The New York Times reported that the restaurant association gave $35,000 — a year’s salary — in severance pay to a second female staff member in the late 1990s after an encounter with Cain made her uncomfortable. The newspaper quoted three people with direct knowledge of the payment.

Four people with contemporaneous knowledge of the encounter told the Times that it took place during an outing where there had been heavy drinking, a hallmark of the hospitality industry, the source said. They did not provide details of the encounter, apparently to protect the woman’s privacy.

Two of them told the Times that other factors had been involved in the woman’s severance and that other workplace issues had been making her unhappy at the association. One former colleague familiar with the details said it was uncommon for employees of her tenure and relatively low pay grade to receive such a severance.

Cain, who has given several interviews about the allegations, has called the claims baseless and maintains that he never sexually harassed anybody, calling the allegations and publicity surrounding the episode, a “witch hunt.”

Bennett pushed back against Cain’s claims.

“I am persuaded that my client made a good-faith complaint of sexual harassment,” Bennett told CNN’s Cooper. “I know her very well, and I’m sure she would not make a false complaint.”

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