Herman Cain denies new harassment allegations, accuses Rick Perry of fueling stories
By Karen Tumulty and Krissah Thompson,
Former restaurant executive Herman Cain faced a new set of sexual harassment allegations Wednesday, with a report that a third former employee had described unwanted, sexually aggressive behavior from him and a Republican pollster saying he had witnessed at least two such incidents.
Cain continued to deny the charges. Speaking to the Northern Virginia Technology Council, he ascribed the reports to “factions that are trying to destroy me personally as well as destroy this campaign.” And he indicated he believes that the rival campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry is fueling them — an accusation that a Perry spokesman denied.
Just about the only thing that was becoming clearer as the controversy headed into its fourth day was that it is not going to go away anytime soon.
The third accuser is an unidentified woman who told the Associated Press that she had considered filing a workplace complaint against Cain for what the news service described as “sexually suggestive remarks or gestures” when she was working at the National Restaurant Association and he was the head of the group.
The alleged misbehavior occurred about the same time that two co-workers settled separate harassment complaints against Cain, each reportedly for five figures.
Meanwhile, pollster Chris Wilson — who said he polled for the National Restaurant Association during Cain’s tenure, and whose firm has more recently done work for an outside super PAC supporting Perry — told Oklahoma radio station KTOK that he had witnessed harassment by Cain toward a very low-level staffer who was maybe two years out of college.
“I was around a couple of times when this happened, and anyone who was involved with the NRA at the time knew that this was going to come up,” Wilson told interviewer Reid Mullins.
The restaurant association has not commented on the specifics of the allegations, citing confidentiality agreements that it had signed with the two original accusers.
One of those accusers, now a federal employee, said earlier that she wanted to tell her story and rebut Cain’s assertion that her claims were unfounded. Her attorney, Joel P. Bennett, had said she was considering asking the restaurant association to free her from the confidentiality agreement.
On Wednesday night, however, she told a Washington Post reporter that she had decided not to go public. Asked why, she replied: “I’m too tired to say why.”
According to someone familiar with the thinking of Bennett’s client, she doesn’t want to go public because she is concerned about her privacy and her job.
Since reports of his alleged misbehavior surfaced on Sunday, Cain has fought back in a flurry of television appearances, though his defense has been marred by his shifting recollections and explanations. He first pleaded ignorance of the accusations or any settlement, but subsequently acknowledged that he had known of at least one of them.
On Wednesday, he shifted his strategy. “Don’t even bother asking me all of these other questions that you all are curious about, okay?” he shouted at a media horde at one of his appearances. “Don’t even bother.” The candidate was accompanied by an apparent bodyguard, a burly man who roughly shoved several photographers out of Cain’s way.
But his attempts to change the subject back to his platform were futile — and were made all the more so by the fact that he had scheduled a round of appearances in the hothouse environment of Washington, rather than elsewhere in the country, where he enjoys an enormous outpouring of goodwill among the conservative faithful.
Among Cain’s stops was Capitol Hill, where he held a series of closed-door sessions with lawmakers.
Rep. Phil Gingrey (Ga.) said the controversy was barely talked about in a meeting between Cain and Georgia’s Republican House delegation at the Republican National Committee on Wednesday afternoon. “We didn’t discuss that hardly at all,” he said. “Nobody asked any questions about that.”
In an interview with Forbes, Cain indicated that he believes Perry’s operatives are behind the surfacing of accusations that were lodged and resolved more than a decade ago.
Cain recalled that he told political consultant Curt Anderson, who worked on his failed 2004 Senate campaign and recently signed on with Perry, about one of the incidents.
Cain’s campaign manager, Mark Block, later called on the Perry campaign to apologize, saying its actions were “despicable.”
Perry’s campaign disputed the suggestion that it had planted the report in the media. “No one at our campaign was involved in this story in any way,” said spokesman Ray Sullivan. “Any claim to the contrary is patently false. The first we learned of it was when we read the story in Politico.” He noted that a number of supporters of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney have connections to the restaurant industry.
Anderson also denied any involvement with the reports and contradicted Cain’s assertion that he had been informed of them.
“I’d never heard any of these allegations until I read them in Politico,” Anderson said in a statement released by the Perry campaign, “nor does anything I read in the press change my opinion that Herman is an upstanding man and a gentleman.”
Wilson, the pollster who had worked with the restaurant association, also sought to distance himself from the original story, saying that he “had nothing to do with leaking this in any way, and I’ve never discussed or shared this story with any of my clients — period.”
Staff writers Aaron Davis, James V. Grimaldi, Sandhya Somashekhar and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.