Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain on Tuesday blamed his changing accounts of sexual harassment allegations on a faulty memory.
“Remember, this was 12 years ago and I was trying to recollect this in the middle of an already busy day,” Cain said in an interview on CNN’s Headline News. “I just started to remember more. In 12 years, a lot of stuff can go through your head. This is not something that was at the top of mine.”
But the comments, rather than offer a plausible explanation, immediately put Cain in another quandary of contradiction: Politico, the news organization that broke the story on Sunday, has reported that its writers had contacted Cain repeatedly over several days before publishing the story, giving Cain ample time to refresh his memory. Politico said on Tuesday that a Cain spokesman offered an explanation a week earlier. “This was settled amicably among all parties many years ago,” Cain’s spokesman was quoted as saying.
Cain has been under fire for two straight days for his changing explanations of a sexual-harassment case brought against him while he headed the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. Early on Monday, Cain acknowledged that he had been accused of sexual harassment by an association employee, but he denied there was a settlement. Later in the day, in interviews with PBS and Fox News, he said he in fact did recall a settlement with the woman in which she left her job in return for severance pay.
During the most recent interview on Tuesday morning on CNN, Cain maintained that the reporters who came to him for comment on the allegations “couldn’t give me details other than it occurred while I was at the National Restaurant Association. The reason I was not going to answer--I wanted to be able to put it in context like I’m doing now.”
He acknowledged being aware of the allegations for 10 days before the story broke. “We had it for 10 days; we made a conscious decision with my sign-off that I’m not going go out and start chasing two anonymous accusations.… For me to even answer his question was totally inappropriate.”
He also said on Tuesday that he is the victim of a smear campaign. “I absolutely believe that this is an intended smear campaign using these two cases. Like I said, I’m not even aware of the second one. It is a smear campaign.… When they cannot kill my ideas like 9-9-9 [economic plan], they come after me personally. And someone asked me yesterday in one of the many interviews that I did, clearing the air on this, is there anything else?
“Not that I know of. I knew about that one case at the restaurant association. I’ve been in business, I was in business before I ran for president, over 40 years, and that was the only instance of accused sexual abuse, sexual harassment, only one,” Cain said.
He described that incident, as he had in interviews on Monday, as a brief encounter with an underling during which he stood near the woman, put his hand under his chin and said, “Oh, you're the same height as my wife.”
But he also said there “a couple of other” allegations in the woman's complaint at the NRA and that he could not recall the specifics. There was “the gesture with the height thing and there were a couple of other things in there that I found absolutely ridiculous,” Cain said.
When CNN anchor Robin Meade asked him to recount what those things were, Cain said, “I don’t even remember. They were so ridiculous, I don’t remember what they are.”
Meade said, “You remember they were ridiculous, but you don’t remember what the other things were?” Cain replied, “The reason I forgot them is because they were ridiculous. I dismissed them out of my mind. I said if she can make that stick and call that sexual harassment, fine. But it didn't stick, okay? So, I don't remember what they were. The only thing that I remember is the one gesture that I made, talking about the height.”