The campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry, trying to deflect allegations that their campaign leaked the story about alleged sexual harassment by Herman Cain, is trying to put the attention elsewhere: on former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
The Perry campaign does not claim to have any proof that Romney supporters leaked the allegations against Cain, the businessman and presidential candidate. But a Perry campaign spokesman pointed out that two Romney supporters have ties to the National Restaurant Association, where Cain was president when he allegedly harassed up to three women.
“We never accused anyone,’’ said Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan. “We simply pointed out the ties between campaign backers and the restaurant association. We’re just saying there are other connections involved potentially in the story.’’
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said any allegations that the Romney campaign was involved in the Cain story are “absolutely not true.’’
One of those Romney supporters, former restaurant association president Steven Anderson, denied that he even had knowledge of the alleged sexual harassment accusations. Chris Krese, a spokesman for Steven Anderson, told the Globe, “He has not commented about this story because he didn’t have knowledge of the allegations when he was president and CEO of the (National Restaurant Association). He didn’t have knowledge of it so he obviously couldn’t have provided the story to the media or anyone, and he didn’t provide the story to the media or anyone.’’
Politico first reported Sunday that Cain allegedly agreed to financial settlements with two women who claimed he had sexually harassed them during his tenure as president the National Restaurant Association. The women left the trade group. Since then, a third woman told the Associated Press that she had similar complaints.
The Cain campaign has given a series of inconsistent responses to the allegations, and yesterday accused Perry’s campaign of leaking them. Cain Chief of Staff Mark Block said yesterday that the Politico story “was almost certainly provided to them by the Rick Perry campaign.’’ As proof, the Cain campaign pointed to the fact that Curt Anderson, a partner in a consulting firm hired by Perry, knew about the allegations from his work as a consultant for Cain’s Senate campaign in 2003. Cain told Forbes magazine that he briefed Curt Anderson about the sexual harassment allegations in 2003.
Curt Anderson denied that he had anything to do with leaking the charges. “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,’’ Curt Anderson said in a statement provided by the Perry campaign. “I have great respect for Herman and his character and I would never speak ill of him, on the record or off the record. That’s true today and it’s not going to change.’’
Sullivan said the Perry campaign denies it had anything to do with the story. “For a candidate and campaign claiming to be victims of unfounded and unproven accusations, they are awfully quick to hurl unfounded accusations themselves,’’ Perry said. “Contrary to the Cain campaign’s false accusations, there is not one shred of evidence that any member of the Perry campaign had anything to do with the recent stories regarding Herman Cain — because it isn’t true.’’
Perry told the conservative blog RedState that he is “disappointed that there’s finger pointing going on.’’
But the Perry campaign has implied a similar allegation – if less directly. Sullivan pointed out the Romney connections with the restaurant association to CBS News and National Journal reporter Rebeccca Kaplan last night, saying “’’I wouldn’t put it past them,’’ to leak the story, CBS reported. Speaking to the Globe today, Sullivan said he was not accusing anyone, but simply pointing out connections between Romney’s campaign and the National Restaurant Association.
He pointed specifically to Steven Anderson and Richard Marriott. Steven Anderson succeeded Cain as president and CEO of the restaurant association, a position he held from 1999 to 2007. Steven Anderson donated $1,000 to Romney’s presidential campaign. It is unclear why, if Steven Anderson was concerned about the sexual harassment allegations, he would have also donated $1,000 to Cain’s 2004 Senate campaign.
Marriott is a former president of the restaurant association and a close associate of Romney. Marriott contributed $500,000 to a pro-Romney super-PAC. The Marriott family, which owns the hotel chain by that name, is friends with the Romney family, and Romney was a director of Marriott International.
But there is no evidence that Marriott would have been in a position to know about the allegations. Marriott was chairman of the National Restaurant Association board of directors for a single year-long term, beginning in May 1992. Cain took over as vice president at the same time. But according to the Politico story and to Cain, the sexual harassment claims were brought when he was chairman of the association, from 1996 to 1999 – after Marriott left.
Messages for Marriot, left at the hotel chain office and at his foundation, were not immediately returned today.