National/World

Cain says he was 'falsely accused' of harassment

Monday, October 31, 2011
Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain gestures during a speech at the Values Voter Summit on Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, in Washington.

Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain gestures during a speech at the Values Voter Summit on Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said Monday he was "falsely accused" of sexual harassment while he led the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.

Cain was responding to a Politico report that said the trade group settled complaints from at least two women that Cain had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior.

Cain told Fox News he has never sexually harassed anyone and that he was "falsely accused." He said investigations into any complaints found that they were "baseless."

"I've never sexually harassed anyone," he said. "And yes, 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."

But he also said he had no idea whether the trade association provided financial settlements to the women who complained, as Politico reported. "I hope it wasn't for much, because I was never aware of it," Cain said.

Cain said he has not been accused of sexually inappropriate behavior in any other context. "Absolutely not," he said when asked if more reports of harassment could surface.

In a written statement, the National Restaurant Association refused to comment on a personnel matter.

At an event in Washington Monday morning, the former businessman said he would further discuss the allegations later in the day while appearing at the National Press Club.

"I will take all your arrows," Cain said.

Cain's campaign was in full-scale damage control mode in the wake of a Politico report late Sunday that said Cain had been accused of sexual harassment toward at least two female employees. The report said the women signed agreements with the restaurant group that gave them five-figure financial payouts to leave the association and barred them from discussing their departures. Neither woman was identified.

The report was based on anonymous sources and, in one case, what the publication said was a review of documentation that described the allegations and the resolution.

"We weren't going to go and chase anonymous sources," Cain said on Fox.

Cain - a self-styled outsider relatively new to the national stage - is facing a new level of scrutiny after a burst of momentum in the race for the GOP presidential nomination. He's been steadily at or near the top of national surveys and polls in early presidential nominating states, competitive with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The former pizza company executive has been pointing to his long record in business to argue that he has the credentials needed to be president during a time of economic strife.

Cain has stumbled since his rise in the polls. He has made statements on abortion, the treatment of terrorism suspects and placing an electrified fence along the U.S.-Mexico border that he's later had to clarify.

It's unclear what the allegations will mean to Cain's political prospects. The Georgia businessman regularly criticizes the mainstream media for writing off his candidacy. "Message is more powerful than media," he says on the campaign trail.

And among conservative voters - who are distrustful of the media - the charges could galvanize support for him.

A message seeking comment from Peter Kilgore, listed on the National Restaurant Association website as its chief legal counsel, was not immediately returned.

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