Herman Cain, one of the frontrunners in the Republican race for the White House, dismissed allegations of sexual harassment against him as a “witch hunt” as he launched a damage limitation exercise to keep his candidacy afloat.
Over the course of two public appearances before the media and an interview with Fox News, Cain confirmed that he had been the subject of sexual harassment complaints involving two female workers in the restaurant industry – but insisted he had been “falsely accused”.
He also said he was unaware of any of the women receiving settlements over the claims, which he described as “trumped up”. Cain said he was “unaware of any sort of settlement. I hope it wasn’t for much, because I didn’t do anything.”
On Sunday night, Politico revealed that two female employees of the National Restaurant Association had received payouts after making harassment claims against Cain while he was the organisation’s president.
According to Politico, the women left the association after complaining about inappropriate behaviour by Cain that made them angry and uncomfortable. They reportedly received settlements in return for signing non-disclosure agreements.
On Monday, Cain refused to answer questions about the claims during an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He then gave an interview to Fox News in which he said: “I have never sexually harassed anyone, and, yes, I was falsely accused while I was at the National Restaurant Association. And I say falsely, because it turned out after the investigation to be baseless.”
Later, during an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, Cain repeated his denials, saying: “In all of my over 40 years of experience – running businesses and corporations – I have never sexually harassed anyone.”
Suggesting the story had come out now as a response to his popularity in the Republican leadership contest, Cain added: “This bullseye on my back has gotten bigger. We have no idea the source of this witch hunt.”
He said again that he had no knowledge of any settlements being paid. But NBC News said later it had independently confirmed that at least one of the women had received a settlement from the restaurant associaton.
During his National Press Club appearance, Cain gave a little more detail about the complaints, saying that as president of the association he had “recused” himself from the investigation, and left it to the lawyers and human resources officials. He said they had “concluded after a thorough investigation that it had no basis”.
But soon after Cain’s comments, Politico published another story detailing how the association’s HR chief at the time, Mary Ose, had told the website last week that she was unaware of any allegations about Cain’s behaviour. A reporter spoke to her again on Monday to ask about Cain’s insistence that HR officials had run the investigation, to which Ose reponded: “You and I have talked and I have nothing more to say.” She then put the phone down.
Cain’s apparent failure to address the allegations head-on will ensure that journalists keep pushing until they find more details of the accusations, including how much was paid to the women, and who authorised any settlement. That could be even more damaging for Cain, especially if it emerges that he did know about the reported payout.
In his Fox interview, Cain acknowleged that the row was going to do some damage to his campaign, which has seen him take the lead in some polls.
“Obviously, some people will be turned off by this cloud over my campaign, but a lot of people are not going to be turned off,” he said.
Cain, 65, a former chief executive of the Godfather’s Pizza chain, has been leading the pack in the race for the Republican nomination to take on Barack Obama in November next year. The first electoral test is scheduled for 3 January, when Iowa holds its caucus.
Tags: american enterprise institute
, damage limitation exercise
, non disclosure agreements
, sexual harassment claims
, sexual harassment complaints
Categories: The Western Press