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Cain keeps explaining sexual harassment allegations

The GOP presidential candidate spends much of the day on TV and radio, rebutting critics and accusing unnamed opponents of mounting a 'smear campaign' involving the accusations by two ex-employees.

November 02, 2011|By James Oliphant, Washington Bureau
  • Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks at the National Press Club in Washington.
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks at the National… (Pablo Martinez Monsivais,…)

Reporting from Washington — As his campaign was roiled for a second day by allegations that he sexually harassed two former employees, Herman Cain kept explaining, even after it began to appear that he was doing more to keep the story afire than anyone.

Cain, the long-shot presidential candidate who now leads the GOP field in some polls, spent much of the day on television and radio, rebutting critics who said he had shifted his account of the alleged incidents at a Washington trade group in the late 1990s. He also accused unnamed opponents of mounting a "smear campaign" to check his political rise.

Two employees of the National Restaurant Assn. accused Cain, then the group's president and chief executive, of improper conduct and were quieted by settlements, Politico reported this week. After Cain initially said the reports were false, he began to alter his account, first saying that he knew about some of the allegations but nothing about any settlements, then acknowledging that he recalled a settlement with one accuser.

Cain said Tuesday that he had recalled an "agreement" with a former employee at the association, not a "settlement."

"I didn't change my story," Cain told the HLN cable news channel. "I simply got the wording right."

But that didn't satisfy skeptics who wondered how Cain could claim no recall of the alleged episodes, then soon begin to rattle off details of one woman's claim and a settlement. Cain said that the incessant media focus on the allegations helped sharpen his memory of events that occurred more than a decade ago.

"I just started to remember more," he said. "In 12 years, a lot of stuff can go through your head."

Neither of the alleged victims has come forward. But there was a sign Tuesday that that may soon change.

A lawyer for one of the women, Joel Bennett, told the Washington Post that his client wanted to speak publicly about the episode but was bound by a confidentiality agreement signed as part of the settlement. Bennett called on the restaurant association to release her from her pledge.

On Fox News, Cain was asked whether he would support lifting the agreement's restriction.

"I can't answer that now because there are legal implications," Cain said.

At the same time, Cain showed some staying power in the face of what he termed a "firestorm." His campaign said he had raised more than $400,000 since the allegations first surfaced. And as part of his aggressive media strategy, Cain's wife, Gloria — little seen on the campaign trail — plans to grant an interview Friday to Fox News.

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