Cain battling to contain fallout from allegations

Herman Cain: Fund-raisingis surging.
Herman Cain: Fund-raisingis surging.

His contradictory explanations raised questions just as he has risen in polls in the 2012 GOP bid.

Posted: November 02, 2011

WASHINGTON - Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain denied Tuesday that he was changing his story as he struggled to contain the fallout from sexual-harassment allegations that could threaten his recently surging campaign.

Cain's contradictory explanations over two days have raised questions about details of the allegations dating from the 1990s and about his current ability to manage a crisis in the national spotlight.

The controversy, relating to his time as head of the National Restaurant Association, surfaced just as he has risen in polls in the GOP nomination fight two months before the Iowa caucuses.

A lawyer for one woman who complained about Cain's behavior told the Washington Post on Tuesday she wanted to talk publicly about it. According to that report, Joel P. Bennett, a Washington lawyer who specializes in employment cases, said he asked the restaurant association to waive his client's confidentiality so she could respond to Cain's contention that the complaints were "totally baseless and totally false."

In Sunday's original report by Politico, at least two women who had complained about Cain were said to have agreed to settlements that included stipulations that they not repeat their allegations in public.

Cain's evolving answers to questions in a host of media interviews this week led at least one rival campaign to suggest he was not being upfront about the accusations.

John Brabender, a strategist for Rick Santorum's campaign, said at a forum hosted by the National Journal: "If you are the front-runner and you plan to be the nominee ... be forthcoming so that you are vetted, and we don't get into a situation where you're our nominee and we find out things after the fact."

Others took a pass. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said during an appearance in Iowa: "I've been focused on policy. I don't follow some of the things that you guys seem fascinated by."

Cain said that rather than the allegations hurting, his fund-raising was surging - "the highest it has been since I've been in this campaign," he told Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly.

The campaign took in as much as $400,000 in a single day, said Mark Block, Cain's chief of staff.

Over the last two days, Cain has acknowledged he knew of one agreement between the restaurant association and a woman who had accused him of sexual harassment. He has said the woman initially asked for a large financial settlement but ultimately received two to three months' pay as part of a separation deal.

Cain also acknowledged remembering one of her accusations against him, saying he had stepped close to her to make a reference to her height and told her she was the same height as his wife.

He has said he was not aware of agreements or settlements with any other women. Politico - which first disclosed the allegations - reported that the trade group had given settlements to at least two female employees who accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior.

Beyond that, Cain has offered a series of sometimes-conflicting statements over what happened and didn't happen, and what he knew about financial payouts.

By Tuesday, Cain was chalking up the confusion to semantics, saying he was aware of an "agreement" but not a "settlement."

"It looked like I had changed my story," Cain told CNN Headline News. "I didn't change my story."

The onetime Godfather's Pizza chief executive spent Tuesday much as he did Monday, going from interview to interview to defend himself.

The damage control amounted to a real-time crisis-management test for a candidate who is just introducing himself to the country and who has based his campaign on his decades-long background in business management.

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