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Cain faces new claim of sexual misconduct

By Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 5:50 PM EST, Mon November 7, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Cain camp reports $2 million haul since allegations broke
  • Chicago woman says Cain made an unwanted sexual advance in 1997
  • "Just admit what you did," Sharon Bialek says of Cain
  • Cain's campaign denies any sexual harassment on his part

Tonight at 9 ET, Piers Morgan talks to Sharon Bialek and her attorney, Gloria Allred, in a live interview about her sexual harassment accusation against GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain.

Washington (CNN) -- GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain faced a new claim of sexually inappropriate behavior Monday as a Chicago woman told reporters the former head of the National Restaurant Association groped her after a dinner together in 1997.

Sharon Bialek, who worked at the restaurant group's education foundation until shortly before the alleged groping incident, said Cain unexpectedly put his hand on her leg beneath her skirt "toward my genitals." She also said he pushed her head toward his crotch.

Cain stopped when she protested, Bialek told a news conference.

Looking into the television cameras, Bialek said: "I want you, Mr. Cain, to come clean. Just admit what you did."

Gloria Allred a girl's best friend

The accusation follows the disclosure last week that the restaurant association provided payments to two women who left the group after alleging sexual harassment by Cain, also in the late 1990s.

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Cain has denied all accusations of sexual harassment, and his campaign put out a fresh denial after Bialek made her accusations on Monday.

"All allegations of harassment against Mr. Cain are completely false," a campaign statement said. "Mr. Cain has never harassed anyone."

Earlier accuser's attorney talks to CNN

Since becoming public on October 30 in a report by Politico, the sexual harassment accusations have overwhelmed the bid by the former pizza company executive to win the Republican presidential nomination.

Cain, a favorite of tea party conservatives, has risen to the top of the polls following strong performances in several debates and the release of his "9-9-9" tax plan that sets flat 9% rates for corporate and income taxes and also creates a 9% national sales tax.

However, Bialek's accusation raises fresh questions about whether Cain has been candid about the allegations that he sexually harassed women at the restaurant association when he headed the group from 1996-99.

Bialek said she started to work at the group's foundation in 1996 but was laid off in 1997. The association confirmed Bialek's employment dates as December 30, 1996, to June 20, 1997.

Shortly after getting let go, Bialek said, she contacted Cain -- whom she had met at the group's Chicago convention -- to seek help in finding a job.

She traveled to Washington, where Cain worked, and found he had upgraded her hotel room to a luxury suite without telling her. They had dinner at an Italian restaurant, she said, and then Cain asked if she had been to the association offices in the capital.

Cain made his advances on the way, according to Bialek.

"He said, 'You want a job, right?' " she told reporters at the news conference organized by celebrity attorney Gloria Allred.

Bialek took no questions from reporters, but Allred said Bialek had told two people at the time about what happened. Bialek filed no complaint with the restaurant association because she no longer worked there, Allred said.

Asked why Bialek was coming forward now, Allred said it was in solidarity with Cain's other accusers and harassed women everywhere.

Cain has previously complained the sexual harassment allegations amount to a baseless media onslaught against his campaign. Polls have yet to indicate any significant effect on his support -- in fact, the campaign reported a spike in donations Monday.

Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon told CNN the campaign raked in $2 million during the past week. By comparison, Cain raised $2.8 million between June and October.

On Sunday, one of Cain's rivals called for keeping the issue alive, saying the necessary scrutiny of presidential candidates requires Cain to answer all questions about what happened.

On Saturday, Cain scolded reporters who asked about the issue following a debate with fellow conservative Newt Gingrich in Texas.

"Don't even go there," Cain told one questioner who'd asked about the allegations. Asked again later, he responded: "What I'm saying is this -- we are getting back on message, end of story. Back on message. Read all of the other accounts, where everything has been answered -- end of story."

On Friday, a lawyer for one of the accusers reported by Politico released a statement saying she stood by her claims against Cain. However, the woman has so far refused to allow her identity or specifics of her allegations to be made public.

In response to the new allegation Monday, the attorney, Joel Bennett, said he believes it corroborates his client's story and called it "similar conduct by the same person." He refused to provide further details.

Cain supporters have said the anonymous allegations and lack of details showed the political nature of the accusations reported by Politico. Bialek is the first woman to publicly accuse Cain and provide specifics about what allegedly happened.

"It's up to Herman Cain to get the information out and get it out in total," Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor running far behind Cain in polls so far, told NBC's "Meet the Press" program. "That's important because we've got some real issues to discuss in this campaign, and this is taking all the bandwidth out of the discussion. So we're not able to talk about jobs. We're not able to talk about our position in the world. And that hurts."

Conservatives, angered by the media attention to the potentially fatal accusations for the tea party favorite's campaign, argued that the lack of specifics -- with no public disclosure yet of an accuser's name or specific offense alleged -- showed it was all more circus than substance.

Legitimate issue or political drama?

"Until something comes out that's concrete, I think it is politics as usual," retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, told CNN's "State of the Union."

To Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican backing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the GOP race, Cain is undergoing a difficult transition from private business figure to public politician.

"To go directly from being a businessman, without substantial time in the government arena, both the vetting and the knowledge of it, is really hard," Issa told NBC. "It's virtually impossible" and in Cain's presidential quest, may be "a bridge too far."

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a strong Democratic Party voice, suggested Cain's troubles were only part of the problem for Republicans on women's issues.

"I think what you're seeing is a huge assault on women's rights in the Republican parties, and an extreme right-wing that has taken over that is going to make it very difficult for anybody in a general election in the Republican Party to be a centrist," Richardson said on NBC.

CNN's Kevin Bohn and Shannon Travis contributed to this report.

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