The National Restaurant Association released a statement Friday confirming that over a decade ago, a female employee filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment against then-association head Herman Cain. Cain disputed the allegations at the time, according to the trade group.
The association told the woman’s attorney it is willing to waive the confidentiality agreement signed by the parties involved — although not by Cain himself — but her lawyer, Joel P. Bennett, said in his own statement Friday that the woman wishes to remain a private citizen and would not be revealing further details regarding her story.
But Bennett did reveal that his client said there were “several instances” that caused his client to feel uncomfortable.
“Based upon the information currently available, we can confirm that more than a decade ago, in July 1999, Mr. Bennett’s client filed a formal internal complaint, in accordance with the Association’s existing policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment,” NRA President and CEO Dawn Sweeney said.“Mr. Herman Cain disputed the allegations in the complaint.”
In a statement late Friday afternoon, Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon said: "We look forward to focusing our attention on the real issues impacting this country -- like fixing this broken economy and putting Americans back to work through our 9-9-9 plan, as well as strengthening national security."
Sweeney said an agreement was reached “without an admission of liability,” and that Cain, now a GOP presidential candidate, was “not a party to the agreement.”
But in a press conference on Friday, Bennet said the woman in question,who has been married 26 years and is a federal employee, said that “she has decided not to relive” the incident and wants to remain a private person.
“My client stands by the complaint she made,” Bennett said.
Bennett, who filed a request Wednesday asking that the National Restaurant Association waive a confidentiality agreement, said that for his client, revisiting the incident, which he said occured over a month’s time and happened more than once, would be “extremely painful” for his client.
Bennett refused to disclose how much his client settled the case for and said that he would not get into any details of whether the complaints involved physical interaction or conversations, but labeled it as sexual harassment.
The NRA said it would have been willing to waive its confidentiality agreement if the woman who filed the complaint had wanted to speak.
“We have advised Mr. Bennett that we are willing to waive the confidentiality of this matter and permit Mr. Bennett’s client to comment. As indicated in Mr. Bennett’s statement, his client prefers not to be further involved with this matter and we will respect her decision.”
Seemingly undaunted by the scandal swirling around him, Cain arrived back in Washington on Friday to speak to a group sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, where he made a concerted effort to focus on substance rather than the sexual harassment scandal that has swirled around him for the last six days.
Bennett said that his client’s version of events differs from Cain’s account.
“Mr. Cain knows the specific incidents that were alleged,” Bennett said. “If he chooses not to remember or not acknowledge those, that’s his issue.”
The matter was resolved in September of 1999, Bennett said, adding that at the time of the sexually harassment, his client was “very upset at the time.”
Bennett said that his client continued to work at the National Restaurant Association for about a month after filing a complaint
“The fact that there is more than one complaintant is meaningful,” Bennett said.
Cain walked on to the stage with a bold red tie on, rather than his trademark gold tie, and the crowd gave the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO a standing ovation and erupted into cheers.
Much of his speech was focused on his econonic vision — his 9-9-9 tax reform plan, cutting back on government programs and what he called the entitlement society, and a peace-through-strength foreign policy inspired by Ronald Reagan.
Cain also embraced his friendship and ideological alliance with David and Charles Koch, the billionaire businessmen who have helped grow the tea party and founded Americans for Prosperity.
“The Koch brothers are my brothers from another mother!” Cain boomed to an enormous convention hall filled with conservative activists from across the nation, who laughed, cheered and rose to their feet several times during his brief speech. David Koch founded Americans for Prosperity, the conservative organization that hosted Cain’s speech at a downtown Washington convention hall.
Since the scandal broke nearly a week ago, Cain has tried to reboot his campaign. Day 6 on Friday has tested his still-evolving campaign team, threatened his top-tier status and yet, according to aides, has been a fundraising boon for his unconventional candidacy.
Since Politico reported Sunday night that two female employees of a trade group lodged sexual harassment claims against Cain years ago, the campaign has raked in $1.2 million, aides say, and the quirky and outspoken businessman has been a fixture on cable news.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll published Friday shows him virtually tied with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the lead in the race for the GOP nomination, with most Republicans shrugging off the allegations but sizeable minorities nevertheless saying the scandal could make them less likely to vote for him.
Aides to Cain say they are working to end the media frenzy that has defined the candidate’s past five days, and looking for ways to shield him from reporters who have swarmed around him at public events.
“Mr. Cain is focused on moving on, on getting his message out across the country and fixing the economy and putting Americans back to work,” said Cain spokesman Gordon.
Cain’s Friday speech was sharp contrast to the earlier appearance before the same group of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who drew tepid applause even with his more conservative proncouncements, including his oft-repeated promise that he will roll back the health-care reform law immediately if he is elected president.
Cain made a passing reference to the roiling sexual harassment scandal, saying: “You know I’ve been in Washington all week, and I’ve attracted a little bit of attention.”
The audience laughed. And they again rose to their feet when he boomed, “I’m going to be president.”
His campaign has been hard-pressed to change the subject from the swirling sexual harassment scandal and to focus instead on more substantial issues.
Thursday night, after a one-hour meeting with Henry Kissinger in New York, Cain’s campaign sent out a news release on Iran-Israeli tensions that was intended to demonstrate Cain’s knowledge of foreign policy. Friday, Cain will begin his day with a 9 a.m. interview on “Danger Zone,” a national security-focused radio show.
Even as new details emerged about Cain’s sometimes rocky tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association, Cain is determined to stop feeding the media frenzy, aides said.
“He doesn’t plan to talk about it anymore. These are just anonymous allegations and none of this has been substantiated,” Gordon said. “ Where does it end?”
Cain and his supporters continued to provide fuel for for conservative pundits who have blamed the harassment-claims scandal on what they see as a racially based bias among liberals against black conservatives.
Cain met Thursday with Virginia Thomas, wife of Clarence Thomas, an acquaintance from his days at the National Restaurant Association. He then proclaimed that in Washington, the rule is “guilty until proven innocent.”
A super PAC backing Cain sent out an e-mail message and released a video Thursday comparing Cain to Thomas and likening media treatment of the candidate to a “high tech lynching” — the same language used by Thomas during his Senate confirmation hearing in 1991.
James V. Grimaldi and Krissah Thompson contributed to this report