Presidential candidate Herman Cain defiantly rejected allegations Monday that he sexually harassed two employees during the 1990s while he was the head of a trade association in Washington, calling the claims “false” and “baseless.”
“I have never sexually harassed anyone. Anyone. And absolutely these are false accusations,” Cain said in an interview on Fox News Channel.
Cain, however, said that if the association had arrived at a legal settlement with the two women, he did not know about it. “I hope it wasn’t for much,” he said.
Politico reported Sunday evening that two female employees of the National Restaurant Assn. accused Cain of improper conduct while Cain was president and chief executive of the organization from late 1996 to 1999.
The women, who were not identified, signed agreements with the association that included financial payouts and barred them from discussing their departures, according to the report.
Sources told Politico that the behavior included "conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature, taking place at hotels during conferences, at other officially sanctioned restaurant association events and at the association's offices."
Cain said that he was aware of the allegations while at the association, but called them “baseless.” He pledged that no further alleged incidents would come to light.
“If more allegations come, I assure you people will simply make them up,” Cain said.
The candidate, who has been surging in the polls and represents at the moment the greatest conservative challenge to Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination, conceded that the allegations had cast a “cloud” over his campaign.
Cain is in Washington for several days as part of an effort to reach out to a Republican establishment that has viewed his longshot bid with some skepticism. Earlier in the day, Cain appeared at a forum on taxes at the American Enterprise Institute, where a scrum of media awaited him.
He declined to answer a question concerning the allegations, citing the forum’s ground rules. “I’ll take all the arrows later,” Cain said.
Beyond the Fox News interview, Cain was scheduled to deliver a lunchtime speech at the National Press Club.
On Fox, Cain was also asked whether his wife of 43 years, Gloria, would soon be joining him on the campaign trail. He said that she would soon grant an “exclusive” interview, without providing details.
“She will be introduced in terms of some limited exposure,” he said. “It’s not her style to be with me on every campaign stop.”