Herman Cain says he was ‘falsely accused’ of sexual harassment while heading trade group

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain gestures today while talking about taxes during an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain gestures today while talking about taxes during an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. –Larry Downing/Reuters

Republican presidential contender Herman Cain said today that he was “falsely accused’’ of sexual harassment while heading the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. The surprise front-runner in some 2012 polls also vowed to maintain his sense of humor and unconventional nature.

“Herman be Herman,’’ the Georgian said in impromptu remarks after a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “And Herman is going to stay Herman.’’

In an interview with Fox News, Cain added that he had been ‘‘falsely accused,’’ and that investigations into any complaints found that they were ‘‘baseless.’’

“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. The people mentioned in that article were the ones who would be aware of any misdoings and they have attested to my integrity and my character,’’ said Cain.

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Politico reported last night that Cain faced allegations of sexual harassment from two women, prompting financial settlements from the trade association, which the former businessman led after heading Godfather’s Pizza.

It is on the strength of that business background and experience that Cain is now claiming the outsider credentials to be an effective president.

In a sidewalk interview with Politico yesterday in Washington, Cain did not directly answer questions about the topic.

“Have you ever been accused, sir, in your life of harassment by a woman?’’ Politico reported asking the candidate.

“He breathed audibly, glared at the reporter, and stayed silent for several seconds. After the question was repeated three times, he responded by asking the reporter, ‘Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?’’’ Politico reported.

Today, appearing at the AEI, Cain said, “I’ll take all of the arrows later,’’ referring to a midday speech he was set to deliver at the National Press Club.

Leaving the stage at AEI, he said he is an unconventional candidate with a sense of humor, which won’t change, prompting his “Herman-be-Herman’’ comment.

The Associated Press, in a subsequent story, reported on his comments to Fox News.

Politico, with a widely read website and paper, based its story on a series of interviews with anonymous sources.

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In one of the two cases, Politico also said it had reviewed documentation “describing the allegations and showing that the restaurant association formally resolved the matter.’’

It added: “These incidents include conversations allegedly 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.’’

Politico said both women received separation packages “in the five-figure range.’’ It also said settlements barred the women from speaking about them.

Peter Kilgore, who was the National Restaurant Association’s general counsel when Cain led the group from late 1996 to mid-1999, and remains in that position today, declined comment, saying he cannot discuss personnel matters, Politico reported.

“Inside-the-Beltway media have begun to launch unsubstantiated personal attacks on Cain,’’ spokesman J.D. Gordon said last night in a written statement to the AP. “Dredging up thinly sourced allegations stemming from Mr. Cain’s tenure as the chief executive officer at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s, political trade press are now casting aspersions on his character and spreading rumors that never stood up to the facts.’’

Asked if Cain’s campaign was denying the report, Gordon said, “Yes.’’

“These are baseless allegations,’’ Gordon said in a second AP interview later in the evening. “To my knowledge, this is not an accurate story.’’

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