One of the women who accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment during his time as head of the National Restaurant Association stood by her complaint on Friday, saying in a statement read by her lawyer that she was the victim of “a series of inappropriate behaviors and unwanted advances” by Cain.
The woman settled the dispute with the NRA a dozen years ago in exchange for a cash payout and an agreement not to publicly discuss the situation. But after Cain flatly denied the allegations, her lawyer, Joel Bennett, came forward on the woman's behalf asking the NRA to allow the woman to tell her side of the story—a request the organization granted on Friday.
Bennett's press conference, held just after Cain delivered a characteristically high-energy speech to an appreciative audience of conservatives gathered at the Washington Convention Center, offered a point-by-point rebuttal of some of Cain's characterizations of the decade-old complaint. The deal with his client was not, as Cain has suggested, a severance payment, Bennett said.
“This was a settlement of an internal complaint of sexual harassment. It was not a severance agreement,” he said. He also questioned Cain's claim that he does not remember specifics of the allegations leveled against him.
“Mr. Cain knows the specific incidents that were alleged. My client filed a written complaint in 1999 against him specifically and it had very specific incidents in it, and if he chooses to not remember or not acknowledge those, that’s his issue.”
Cain was on his way out of Washington by the time Bennett held his press conference, but his campaign issued a statement suggesting that it is time to move on from the weeklong controversy. “We’re looking forward to focusing our efforts on the real issues impacting this country, like fixing this broken economy and putting Americans back to work with our 9-9-9 plan, as well as strengthening national security," said Cain spokesman J.D. Gordon.
In a separate statement, the restaurant association acknowledged that Bennett's client filed a formal complaint against Cain in 1999. Cain disputed the allegations and was not a party to the agreement, which contained no admissions of guilt, the association said.
Neither the restaurant association nor Bennett offered any more details about the alleged harassment. “She and her husband see no value in revisiting this matter now, nor in discussing the matter further publicly or privately. In fact, it would be extremely painful to do so,” the woman’s statement said.
The unnamed woman was one of two who received financial settlements and left the National Restaurant Association after complaining of being sexually harassed by Cain during his 1996-to-1999 tenure. One woman reportedly got $35,000, the other $45,000, according to multiple news accounts.
In an interview with CNN after his announcement, Bennett said another woman called his office this week claiming that Cain had sexually harassed her while she worked at the restaurant association, but later decided against coming forward.
And Republican pollster Chris Wilson, who worked for the association during Cain’s tenure, told an Oklahoma radio station that he had witnessed Cain acting inappropriately toward a junior member of the staff. Wilson now does polling for a super PAC supporting Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign.
Of the multiple allegations of sexual harassment, Bennett said, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
The woman’s statement is sure to spark a fresh round of stories about what Cain knew and when he knew it. Since Politico broke the story on Sunday, Cain has repeatedly changed his story, which has raised doubts about the strength of his campaign.
But an ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Friday had Cain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney statistically tied for front-runner status. The poll began on Monday—the day after the allegations surfaced—and continued through Thursday, surveying 1,004 adults, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Cain’s campaign got another piece of bad news on Friday when the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that a nonprofit run by Cain’s campaign manager, Mark Block, made $40,000 in illegal contributions to Cain’s presidential campaign. The contributions were originally reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In his speech on Friday, Cain indirectly addressed the controversies, exhibiting the freewheeling style that has marked his campaign.
"You know I've been in Washington all week, and I've attracted a little bit of attention,” Cain said to laughs at a summit hosted by Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group founded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, whose relationship with Cain was scrutinized on Friday in The New York Times. “And there was an article in The New York Times today that has attempted to attract some more attention! That’s kind of what happens when you start to show up near or at the top of the polls.”
Cain said the Koch brothers, whose support for conservative candidates and causes has drawn the ire of the Left, were his “brothers … from another mother.”
Cain’s speech elicited multiple standing ovations, and the convention center crowd repeatedly interrupted the speech.
Since Politico first reported the women’s claims on Sunday, Cain has fought back in public appearances and in television interviews, but has changed his story repeatedly. He first said that there had been no settlements with women at the NRA. He then acknowledged there had been at least one settlement, but said the charges were “baseless.” He said his changing version of events was the result of a faulty memory.
Cain has alternately blamed a Perry aide and the liberal media for a smear campaign. Over the last two days, he has said racism in the media is fueling a “lynching” of a conservative black candidate. On Friday, a super PAC supporting Cain's campaign launched an ad blaming the media for racially motivated stories that the ad calls a "high-tech lynching."
Sarah B. Boxer, Lindsey Boerma, and Andrew Joseph contributed.