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Cain is mum on sexual harassment allegations

More reports of inappropriate behavior surface, including alleged remarks made to staff members of radio host Steve Deace. The GOP hopeful seeks to contain the scandal in private talks with lawmakers.

November 03, 2011|By Kathleen Hennessey, Tom Hamburger and James Oliphant, Washington Bureau
  • Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain gets into a vehicle after meeting with lawmakers in Washington. Don't even bother asking me all these other questions you might be curious about, he told the news media Wednesday.
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain gets into a vehicle after… (Jonathan Ernst, Reuters )

Reporting from Washington — Herman Cain dodged reporters, cameras and questions Wednesday as he hustled between meetings on Capitol Hill, staying mum on the sexual harassment allegations that have enveloped his presidential bid and appeared to be snowballing.

The Associated Press reported that a third former employee of the National Restaurant Assn., where Cain was once the executive director, was made uncomfortable by Cain's behavior toward her — which she said included an invitation to his corporate apartment — and considered filing a complaint.

A Republican consultant told an Oklahoma radio station that he had witnessed Cain act inappropriately toward one of two female restaurant association employees who ultimately did file harassment complaints against Cain. Both women received financial settlements.

"At the time, she was a very low-level staffer, maybe two years out of college," Chris Wilson said on KTOK's "Mullins in the Morning" show. "This all occurred at a restaurant in Crystal City [Va.] and everybody was very aware of it."

Wilson's firm has conducted polling for Make Us Great Again, a "super PAC" supporting Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Steve Deace, a well-known conservative talk radio host in Iowa, site of the first caucuses, on Jan. 3, accused Cain of making inappropriate and awkward comments to two of Deace's female staffers, but declined to say whether he thought they qualified as "sexual harassment."

Deace said Cain crossed "personal boundaries" with his remarks. He declined to release additional details about the matter and said the conversation should be focused on Cain's record, including what he called questionable statements on abortion, gay marriage and foreign policy.

And prominent Republicans began to call on Cain to ask his former employer to lift the confidentiality agreements that were part of the settlements with the two women. In a radio interview, GOP strategist Karl Rove said the situation would "look unfair" if the women weren't allowed to tell their side of the story. Speaking on MSNBC, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said that Cain needed to "get the facts out."

Attorney Joel Bennett, who represented one of the women, had said his client would like to speak out to correct Cain's version of the events. But Wednesday night, Bennett said his client had decided not to go public, hoping to avoid becoming "another Anita Hill," the New York Times reported.

Cain sought to contain the scandal in private sessions with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where he repeated his denials of the allegations but did not go into detail, according to people who were in the meetings who spoke on condition of anonymity because the sessions were private. Cain downplayed the impact on his presidential hopes and chalked up the increased scrutiny to a sign that his campaign was building steam, lawmakers said.

In public, he refused to answer most questions, deploying bodyguards to shove reporters and camera crews out of his way after a morning meeting in Alexandria, Va. "Don't even bother asking me all these other questions you might be curious about," he told them.

Later, Cain, who repeatedly has asserted that he is the victim of a "smear campaign" by one of his opponents, pointed to Perry's campaign as the culprit.

In an interview with Forbes, Cain said he had briefed GOP strategist Curt Anderson on one allegation. Anderson worked on Cain's unsuccessful 2004 Senate bid in Georgia and joined the Perry campaign last month.

"Those charges were baseless, but I thought he needed to know about them," Cain told Forbes. "I don't recall anybody else being in the room when I told him."

Anderson denied leaking the allegations to the press.

As Cain hustled between meetings on Capitol Hill, surrounded by a throng of cameras and reporters, he arrived not as the likable curveball of the presidential primary but as a more familiar Washington character: the politician beset by sex scandal.

He was received by his fellow politicians — a sympathetic group when it comes to campaign woes — with a mix of noncommittal support and careful distance.

All 47 GOP senators were invited to dinner with Cain on Tuesday night, but most declined. Only five House members turned out Wednesday to hear Cain discuss healthcare policy. A meeting at a private club nearby drew a crowd of about 50 members, lawmakers said, far fewer than one of Cain's competitors, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, drew last week.

Several lawmakers said they were interested in hearing Cain's message and were giving him the benefit of the doubt — for now.

"Everybody's got stuff," said Rep. Joe Walsh, an Illinois freshman whose ex-wife has accused him of not paying child support. "Tell me what your stuff is and let's move on."

"Who knows?" said Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.). "People could be making things up. I mean, Justin Bieber is accused of being a father."

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

tom.hamburger@latimes.com

james.oliphant@latimes.com

Times staff writer Seema Mehta in Des Moines and Melanie Mason in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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