Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said Monday he was "falsely accused" of sexual harassment while he led the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.
Cain was responding to a Politico report that said the trade
group settled complaints from at least two women that Cain had
engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior.
Cain told a national news program he has never sexually harassed anyone and that he was "falsely accused." He said investigations into any
complaints found that they were "baseless."
"I've never sexually harassed anyone," he said. "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."
But he also said he had no idea whether the trade association
provided financial settlements to the women who complained, as
Politico reported. "I hope it wasn't for much, because I was never
aware of it," Cain said.
Cain said he has not been accused of sexually inappropriate
behavior in any other context. "Absolutely not," he said when
asked if more reports of harassment could surface.
In a written statement, the National Restaurant Association
refused to comment on a personnel matter.
At an event in Washington Monday morning, the former businessman
said he would further discuss the allegations later in the day
while appearing at the National Press Club.
"I will take all your arrows," Cain said.
Cain's campaign was in full-scale damage control mode in the
wake of a Politico report late Sunday that said Cain had been
accused of sexual harassment toward at least two female employees.
The report said the women signed agreements with the restaurant
group that gave them five-figure financial payouts to leave the
association and barred them from discussing their departures.
Neither woman was identified.
The report was based on anonymous sources and, in one case, what
the publication said was a review of documentation that described
the allegations and the resolution.
"We weren't going to go and chase anonymous sources," Cain
said on Fox.
Cain - a self-styled outsider relatively new to the national
stage - is facing a new level of scrutiny after a burst of momentum
in the race for the GOP presidential nomination. He's been steadily
at or near the top of national surveys and polls in early
presidential nominating states, competitive with former
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The former pizza company executive
has been pointing to his long record in business to argue that he
has the credentials needed to be president during a time of
Cain has stumbled since his rise in the polls. He has made
statements on abortion, the treatment of terrorism suspects and
placing an electrified fence along the U.S.-Mexico border that he's
later had to clarify.
It's unclear what the allegations will mean to Cain's political
prospects. The Georgia businessman regularly criticizes the
mainstream media for writing off his candidacy. "Message is more
powerful than media," he says on the campaign trail.
And among conservative voters - who are distrustful of the media
- the charges could galvanize support for him.
A message seeking comment from Peter Kilgore, listed on the
National Restaurant Association website as its chief legal counsel,
was not immediately returned.