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Cain camp calls report of third harassment claim 'baseless'

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 11:50 AM EDT, Thu November 3, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cain campaign demands apology from Gov. Rick Perry
  • Campaign says report of third woman example of "baseless allegations"
  • GOP consultant says he personally saw inappropriate behavior by Cain
  • Cain is facing the revelation of sexual harassment charges from the 1990s

Herman Cain has accused Rick Perry's campaign of being behind the leak of sexual harassment allegations. At 6 p.m. ET Thursday, Perry talks with John King about that and more on "John King, USA."

Washington (CNN) -- Herman Cain's campaign Wednesday called a report of a third former employee claiming he engaged in inappropriate behavior an example of "baseless allegations."

The former National Restaurant Association employee said she considered filing a workplace complaint against Cain, the Associated Press reported. She said that Cain made sexually suggestive remarks or gestures and that the behavior included a private invitation to Cain's corporate apartment, according to the AP. The two worked together in the late 1990s, the report said.

Cain campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon told CNN that Cain "has said over the past two days at public events that we could see other baseless allegations made against him as this appalling smear campaign continues.

"He has never acted in the way alleged by inside-the-Beltway media, and his distinguished record over 40 years spent climbing the corporate ladder speaks for itself," Gordon said. "Since his critics have not been successful in attacking his ideas, they are resorting to bitter personal attacks. Mr. Cain deserves better."

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The controversy took on an even sharper political tone Wednesday when Cain blamed a consultant with ties to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign for leaking information over the sexual harassment allegations.

The GOP presidential candidate told Forbes that in 2003 he told Curt Anderson, who worked on Cain's unsuccessful 2004 U.S. Senate campaign in Georgia, about one case. "Those charges were baseless, but I thought he needed to know about them," Cain told Forbes. "I don't recall anyone else being in the room when I told him."

Perry owes Cain's family an apology, said Cain's chief of staff, Mark Block, in a statement.

Wednesday, Anderson said, "I'd never heard any of these allegations until I read them in Politico, nor does anything I read in the press change my opinion that Herman is an upstanding man and a gentleman."

The Perry campaign claimed it didn't know about the allegations until Politico first published the story Sunday.

"No one at our campaign was involved in this story in any way," said campaign communications director Ray Sullivan. "Any claim to the contrary is patently false."

Wes Anderson, Curt's brother, acknowledged their firm was recently hired by the Perry campaign. He, too, denied any knowledge of the allegations before the Politico story broke.

The Perry campaign suggested the campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney might have been planted the story, a contention denied by Romney forces.

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Appearing before a consumer group in Virginia Wednesday morning, Cain accused his critics of engaging in the politics of personal destruction, and he insisted his candidacy would survive the maelstrom.

"There is a force at work here that is much greater than those that would try to destroy me and destroy this campaign," the former Godfather's Pizza CEO said. "That force is called the voice of the people. That's why we are doing as well as we are."

Cain referenced a new Quinnipiac University national poll showing him leading the GOP field with 30% support among registered Republicans, compared with 23% for Romney. The survey, however, was conducted almost entirely before news of the allegations came out.

Later, a visibly irritated Cain refused to discuss the issue with reporters, telling them "don't even bother asking ... all of these other questions that you all are curious about."

Cain also met behind closed doors on Capitol Hill with Republican lawmakers.

The controversy apparently hasn't hurt the candidate's campaign war chest. It was able to garner more than $400,000 Tuesday, eclipsing Monday's record tally, Cain campaign spokesman Gordon told CNN.

The sexual harassment story first broke Sunday evening, when the Politico report alleged that two female employees at the National Restaurant Association accused Cain of inappropriate behavior during his tenure as head of the organization in the late 1990s. The women, according to Politico, received two separation packages in the five-figure range.

One of the packages totaled $35,000 -- equivalent to that staffer's annual salary, according to the New York Times.

On Monday, Cain forcefully denied all of the charges and said he was "not aware of any (legal) settlement."

Later, Cain changed his tune, saying he did in fact know about a "separation agreement" in one of the cases.

The candidate told HLN's Robin Meade on Tuesday that the agreement provided one of his accusers "in the vicinity of three to six months' severance pay." The payment was "not outside our guidelines for what most people get ... when they leave the Restaurant Association involuntarily," he claimed.

While the Cain campaign had first been approached by Politico 10 days before the story was first published, the candidate himself said he was only remembering many details of the incident on Monday.

"In 12 years, a lot of stuff can go through your head," he said.

Cain continued to vehemently deny the allegations, telling HLN: "I have never committed sexual harassment in my entire career. Period."

Meanwhile, an attorney representing one of the alleged harassment victims said Tuesday night his client believes Cain is lying, and wants to go public with her side of the story. The separation agreement included a confidentiality agreement with the association.

Joel Bennett told CNN that he spoke with his client Wednesday evening and that he would ask the National Restaurant Association to allow him to issue a statement on her behalf. The woman will not be doing any interviews and her name would not be on any statement, he added.

He said his client hopes to "set the record straight as to the complaints."

Bennett contacted the association on Wednesday morning, according to Sue Hensley, a spokeswoman for the group. A representative of the association "promptly returned his call" and asked him to contact the group's outside counsel, Hensley said.

Bennett indicated he would do so on Thursday.

Asked why his client would not reveal her identity, Bennett said "she doesn't want to become another Anita Hill ... that's not her interest or expectation," referring to the woman who 20 years ago went public with sexual harassment allegations against then U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and was the subject of criticism.

Bennett told CNN his client, who is now a federal government employee and who has worked at several departments, would like to put this behind her and is not a publicity seeker.

Asked Tuesday night on Fox News if he would push the association to go along with a request to waive the confidentiality agreement, Cain said he couldn't answer the question because of "legal implications."

Cain insisted that he had not violated the confidentiality terms himself by talking about the claims to the media.

"I never used their name," Cain told Fox. "For one of them, I didn't even know the name."

Cain has so far only released details about one of the allegations, saying it involved him gesturing to one of the women that she was the same height as his wife -- about 5 feet tall -- and came up to his chin.

Bennett did not indicate which of the alleged victims he represents, though he said his client is taller than 5 feet. He said the client is "happily married" and works for the federal government.

For his part, Cain has said he has no recollection of a second incident. According to Politico, however, one of the allegations involves an "unwanted sexual advance" at a hotel room in Chicago.

Separately, an Oklahoma Republican political consultant told CNN Wednesday he personally witnessed Cain demonstrate inappropriate conduct toward a female employee during Cain's tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association. Chris Wilson first made the charge earlier in the day in an interview with KTOK, an Oklahoma radio station.

The alleged incident "occurred at a restaurant in Crystal City (Virginia) and everybody was aware of it," said Wilson -- a consultant for the organization at the time -- in the KTOK interview.

"It was only a matter of time because so many people were aware of what took place, so many people were aware of her situation, the fact she left. Everybody knew with the campaign that this would eventually come up."

Wilson is currently doing polling for a political action committee supporting Perry's bid, but the group is independent of the campaign and by law cannot coordinate with it.

"To be clear, and you can ask any of the reporters covering this story, I had nothing to do with leaking this in any way, and I've never discussed or shared this story with any of my clients -- period," Wilson told CNN.

One of the many unanswered questions is who initially leaked the harassment allegations to Politico? Cain has assailed what he calls a "smear campaign" against him, and hasn't ruled out the possibility that an opponent from either the right or the left tried to create a "witch hunt."

Bennett said Tuesday night it's his understanding that a former National Restaurant Association board member first leaked the story.

Also unclear at the moment is the extent to which the story is damaging Cain's candidacy. No polls have yet been conducted entirely after the news broke.

So far, a number of high-profile conservatives are sticking by Cain, turning their focus instead to the so-called "mainstream" media -- a perennial favorite target of right-wing leaders.

"It's outrageous the way liberals treat a black conservative," columnist Ann Coulter told Fox News earlier this week. "This is another high-tech lynching." That phrase was first used by now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, whose confirmation hearings also focused on sexual harassment allegations.

CNN's Kevin Bohn, Gloria Borger, Alan Silverleib, Jim Acosta and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report

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