Embattled Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said on Tuesday that he does not recall the woman who has accused him of making a crude sexual advance in 1997, and accused her of lying about the alleged encounter.
Cain dismissed Sharon Bialek’s allegations as “baseless, bogus, and false” in an ABC News/Yahoo interview streamed online. He accused opponents of his outsider, tea party-blessed campaign were hoping to frustrate him into dropping out of the race.
Watching Bialek’s Monday press conference in which she described an unwanted grope by Cain, the former restaurant executive said: “I sat there, trying to recall who she was and if I knew her. And I am honestly telling you I can’t even recall knowing her back then.”
“Sexual harassment is a very serious charge. Throughout my career, I have had nothing but the utmost respect for any and all women,” Cain added. Asked if he is accusing Bialek of lying, Cain replied, “I am saying that, in as nice a way as I can.”
In response to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, his closest rival in the polls, who said earlier on Tuesday that the charges were “disturbing,” Cain said, “He’s right. They are disturbing to me, they are serious.”
Bialek said that Cain reached under her skirt and pulled his head toward his crotch while in a car following a meeting she had with him to discuss job prospects. Bialek said she had interacted with Cain on several occasions and had otherwise found him personable.
Cain said that he did not recall having drinks with Bialek or giving her a ride in his car.
“When I first saw her, I didn’t even recollect – I didn’t even recognize her,” Cain said.
Cain’s campaign has aggressively sought to discredit Bialek, casting aspersions on her employment history in an e-mail blast on Tuesday. “As Ms. Sharon Bialek has placed herself in the public spotlight through making patently false allegations against Herman Cain, it is only fair to compare her track record alongside Mr. Cain’s,” the e-mail said. “In stark contrast to Mr. Cain’s four decades spent climbing the corporate ladder rising to the level of CEO at multiple successful business enterprises, Ms. Bialek has taken a far different path.”
Bialek, accompanied by celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, on Monday held a press conference to allege that Cain, when he was CEO of the National Restaurant Association in 1997, sexually assaulted her after she sought his help finding a job. Bialek became the first woman to publicly accused Cain of improper behavior. Three others have anonymously claimed that he sexually harassed them.
Bialek then embarked on the television news circuit, denying that she has gone public in order to secure a book deal or otherwise profit financially. She has said she wanted Cain’s alleged victims to have a voice, and wanted to serve as a positive role model for her 13-year-old son.
In a Tuesday morning CNN interview, Bialek said she had filed for personal bankruptcy after her mother's medical bills piled up and she went through a custody battle following a divorce.
"Like millions of other people out there, you know, I'm struggling. And I could have actually sold my story, but I didn't because ... my whole objective is to tell the truth and also help other people out there who may have been in similar situations," Bialek said.
In his ABC/Yahoo interview, Cain reiterated his earlier claim that he decided to run for president when President Obama signed the 2010 health care expansion law.