The attorney for one of the women who accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment said Friday that “a series of inappropriate behaviors and unwanted advances” spanning months led his client to take action. He also challenged the presidential contender’s credibility in claiming not to recall details about the incidents or her allegations.
The late-day news conference by lawyer Joel P. Bennett offered the most details to date of a scandal that has consumed Washington and the race for the Republican nomination for the past week. His account contrasts with comments made by Cain, who initially disputed the allegations but later said he recalled a single incident while he was head of the National Restaurant Association in which he compared a female subordinate’s height to that of his wife.
“Mr. Cain knows the specific incidents that were alleged,” Bennett said. “My client filed a written complaint in 1999 against him specifically. It had very specific incidents in it. If he chooses not to remember or acknowledge those, that’s his issue.”
The restaurant association also released a statement Friday confirming that it had agreed to the settlement with Bennett’s client in September 1999 “without any admission of liability.” The statement noted that Cain had denied the allegations at the time and was not a party to the settlement. The statement also said the association has waived a confidentiality requirement, giving Bennett’s client permission to speak about the allegations. Bennett said his client, who has been married for 26 years, does not plan to do so.
Cain, meanwhile, appeared undaunted by the scandal at a Friday afternoon speech he gave in Washington, where supporters cheered wildly for him. And so far, at least, the controversy has not knocked Cain from the top of the Republican field, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that was taken this week.
The poll found that Cain and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney are essentially tied in the race for the GOP nomination. Nearly a quarter of Republicans backed Cain in the poll, his best showing of the year and up significantly from early October.
Seventy percent of Republicans said the allegations wouldn’t matter in their picking of a candidate. At the same time, the poll found there is clearly a risk to Cain’s campaign should the allegations stick: Sizable numbers of Republicans (37 percent) and GOP-leaning independents (42 percent) see the allegations against Cain as serious ones.
At an annual conference of the conservative organization Americans for Prosperity at a downtown Washington convention hall, Cain strode onstage while exuberant supporters cheered, rose to their feet and, in some cases, danced and mugged for cameras that were broadcasting the images onto two jumbo screens flanking the stage.
Cain drew a laugh from the crowd with a passing reference to the controversy: “You know, I’ve been in Washington all week, and I’ve attracted a little bit of attention.” He also brought the room to its feet when he embraced his relationship with David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who financed numerous conservative causes — including Americans for Prosperity, which David Koch founded.
“I’m very proud to know the Koch brothers,” Cain said. “They make it sound like we’ve had time to go fishing together, hunting together, skiing together, golfing together. But just so I can clarify this for the media — this may be a breaking news announcement for the media — I am the Koch brothers’ brother from another mother.”
After several days muddling through the controversy with shifting and inconsistent recollections, Cain and his campaign appeared ready to move on. In response to Bennett’s news conference, Cain’s 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.”
Nevertheless, many questions remain about the allegations against Cain.
Three sources with knowledge of a separate incident that occurred in 1997 confirmed to The Washington Post the circumstances of a second settlement, which involved a woman in her early 30s who worked for the association’s government affairs staff. The sources could not describe what happened between Cain and the woman, saying it was a private encounter.
The encounter left the woman feeling uncomfortable and prompted closed-door meetings at the association that resulted in a financial payout of a year’s salary in the mid-$30,000 range. The woman involved has not returned phone calls and has altered her Facebook account to shield her identity.
Accounts of a third incident have surfaced in news reports. Bennett, in an interview on CNN on Friday following his news conference, said he received a phone call from a woman claiming that she, too, was sexually harassed by Cain.
Bennett said the woman left a recorded message, but when he returned her call, she had decided not to pursue the matter, he said.
Polling director Jon Cohen and staff writer Krissah Thompson contributed to this report.