Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain defended his seemingly contradictory statements today, saying he had difficulty remembering details connected to decade-old sexual harassment allegations against him, and that the story is a “smear campaign” created by his opponents.
“When I was initially hit with this … I didn’t recall it right away,” Cain told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham this morning, adding that he was “not changing the story, but trying to fill as many details as I could possibly recall.”
Cain went on the defensive as one of the accusers confirmed to NPR that the Politico report about two women accusing Cain of sexual harassment was accurate.
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. Cain, who had stayed relatively mum on the issue this weekend, has vehemently denied the allegations, saying he was falsely accused.
Contrary to reports, however, Cain said today that he recalls only one such incident, not two. The woman, according to Cain, took offense when he told her that she was as tall as his wife, and put his hand on his chin to indicate the difference.
“I was not touching her when I did that,” the former businessman said. “This was the only time, being around a lady, felt that was sexual harassment, and it was shown that it had no basis. It was resolved.”
But even as he attempts to defend himself, Cain’s apparently contradictory statements have made the situation even murkier.
The leading GOP candidate said Monday he couldn’t recall whether he met one of the women in a hotel room while at a conference, but he never said no directly when posed the question.
“That I absolutely do not recall. You know, I have no recollection of that,” Cain said in the PBS interview.
Today, he added that he never extended such an invitation.
The former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza denied Monday that he was aware of a settlement between the two accusers and the National Restaurant Association, but his story changed as the day evolved.
“If the Restaurant Association did a settlement, I wasn’t aware of it and I hope it wasn’t much because nothing happened,” Cain said in a Fox News interview, and repeated the same line at the National Press Club later that afternoon.
But in an interview later in the evening with PBS, the Tea Party star said he was, in fact, aware of a deal.
“I was aware that an agreement was reached. The word ‘settlement’ versus the word ‘agreement,’ you know, I’m not sure what they called it. I know that there was some sort of agreement, but because it ended up being minimal, they didn’t have to bring it to me,” Cain told PBS’ Judy Woodruff.
Cain blamed the discrepancy on the wording and the difference between a “settlement” and “agreement.”
“I didn’t change my story. I simply got the wording right,” he told HLN’s Robin Meade today.
But his attempts to explain the story created even more confusion today. Cain said the settlement equated to about three to six months of severance pay, but the accusation didn’t come up until the woman had left the National Restaurant Association.
The former businessman has described the story, first reported by Politico, as a distraction and a “witch hunt” created by his competitors.
“There is no doubt in my mind,” Cain said,” that this is because I have done so well in the polls consistently. I’m sure there are going to be more.”
Polls have shown that Cain supporters haven’t yet been moved by the news. In fact, Monday was one of the best online fundraising days for his campaign, Cain said.
But the tide could turn if the story gains momentum. And this isn’t the only controversy to surround his campaign. Cain is also facing questions about campaign financing activities. A Wisconsin non-profit charity – started by Cain’s chief of staff Mark Block – allegedly paid for various expenses when Cain’s campaign began, which is illegal under campaign finance laws.
Cain said his campaign is looking up the records and will have an explanation later today. Another report out today also alleges that Cain got his position at Burger King because of an effort by the Rev. Jesse Jackson to bring more black leaders into management positions, an assumption that Cain dismissed.
Given the serious implications of the sexual harassment charges, even some conservatives are calling on Cain to explain his story better.
“He’s not denying, but he ain’t responding and that’s not the best place to be,” Karl Rove, former adviser to President George W. Bush, said on Fox News Monday. “If these allegations are not true, say they aren’t true and put it behind you.”
According to Politico, the conversations between Cain and the two women who accused him of inappropriate behavior were “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.
“There were also descriptions of physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship,” the article stated.