A third woman reportedly said she was the subject of sexual harassment by Herman Cain as the Republican presidential candidate tried to quell the controversy and avoided reporters today.
The Associated Press reported that a third woman formerly employed by the National Restaurant Association said she had been harassed by Cain during his three years working there. The AP did not name the woman, but reported that she described to them sexually suggestive situations including an invitation to his corporate apartment.
Cain today flatly denied the accusation, saying that it was all part of a smear campaign against him.
“Mr. 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,” his spokesman J.D. Gordan said in a statement. “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.”
The 2012 Republican presidential frontrunner became agitated with reporters today as he left a health care event in Virginia. Cain, who did not mention the scandal in his news conference there, refused to answer questions as he was stormed by reporters after the event. Later in the day, as he was leaving meetings on Capitol Hill, Cain again avoided questions by a throng of reporters, hurriedly getting in his car to move on to a private event.
The lawyer for one of the accusers told CNN Tuesday that his client was paid as part of a settlement that resulted from a sexual harassment complaint, contradicting Cain’s claims that the settlement was part of a severance package.
The New York Times reported that a second female employee got a year’s worth of severance pay after she complained that she felt uncomfortable working with Cain, the head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s. The GOP candidate said Tuesday he only recalled a settlement with one woman, and that amounted to about three to six months of severance pay.
Attorney Joel Bennet said his client – a career federal government employee – is ready to tell her side of the story if the National Restaurant Associated releases her from the confidentiality agreement.
Bennet contacted the association this morning and was asked to contact its outside counsel, the National Restaurant Association said today. Bennet said he would do so Thursday, after speaking to his client, the statement stated. Cain would only say there could be legal implications of breaking the confidentiality agreement, without going into details.
“She’s been very upset about this since the story broke last Sunday because Mr. Cain has been giving the impression she came out and made false allegations. That’s certainly not true,” Bennet said in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “My client’s allegations were made in good faith, based upon actual events.”
The former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza was accused of inappropriate conduct by two female employees when he was head of the National Restaurant Association from 1996 to 1999, as first reported by Politico. The association made a settlement with the women that included a financial payout and a confidentiality agreement.
Cain has repeatedly said he was falsely accused, and that the discrepancy in his version of the story is because he initially had a hard time remembering details of the events that took place more than a decade ago.
The Tea Party star first said he was not aware of any settlement, but later changed his story to say that there was one.
Explaining the flip-flop on Fox News’ Tuesday night, Cain said, “My recollection later was that was an agreement so I made an assumption about the word settlement that it was legal. I didn’t think there was a legal settlement but an agreement. This happened 12 years ago, so all day I am trying to piece the pieces together.”
The National Restaurant Association’s human resources department and counsel conducted an investigation, which found that the charges had no merit, Cain said.
The former businessman has blamed his critics for stirring the pot and creating a “witch hunt.”
“There are factions that are trying to destroy me, personally as well as this campaign,” Cain said today during a speech at the Northern Virginia Technology Council. “But there is a force greater, there is a force at work here much greater than those that would try to destroy me and destroy this campaign and this journey to the White House. And that force is called the ‘voice of the people.’”
Cain remains strong in the polls despite the latest controversy that continues to unfold. His opponents have been relatively silent on the issue. But Newt Gingrich opened up about it today in an interview with an Atlanta radio station, and blamed the uproar on the media, calling it “disgusting.”
But some other conservatives have called on Cain to be more open about the case, including former adviser to President George W. Bush, Karl Rove.
“He’s not denying, but he ain’t responding and that’s not the best place to be,” Karl Rove said on Fox News Monday. “If these allegations are not true, say they aren’t true and put it behind you.”
ABC News’ Susan Archer and Ariane de Vogue and the Associated Press contributed to this report.