A defiant Herman Cain denied on Tuesday that he has ever even met the woman who on Monday publicly accused him of sexual misconduct, and insisted that the allegations of sexual harassment lodged against him are falsehoods promulgated by political enemies.
"I have never acted inappropriately with anyone. Period," the presidential candidate said.
Speaking against a backdrop of American flags at a hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz., on the same day a second accuser went public with accusations of sexual harassment against him, Cain said he has no intention of withdrawing from the race.
"Ain't gonna happen," he said. "I will not be deterred by false, anonymous, incorrect accusations."
From National Journal:
CONNECTIONS POLL: Public Doubts Congress Will Aid Economy
ANALYSISThis Time Cain's Accuser Has a Name and a Face
Republicans Less Likely to Believe Cain Allegations
But there were signs of growing problems for the presidential contender. For the first time, some of his rivals began to raise concerns about the sexual harassment charges against him. And by Tuesday evening, lawyers for two of his accusers were raising the possibility of some of Cain's alleged victims holding a joint press conference to detail their accusations against him. Karen Kraushaar, a government spokeswoman who identified herself Tuesday as one of the women who reached a settlement with the National Restaurant Association after complaining of unwanted attention from Cain when he was CEO, suggested the joint press conference in interviews with the New York Times and CNN. In a separate interview with CNN, lawyer Gloria Allred said that her client, Sharon Bialek, would be willing to participate in such a news conference.
Cain's Arizona press conference was called to rebut charges Bialek made one day earlier. She accused Cain of sexually assaulting her after she sought his help finding a job in 1997 when Cain headed the Restaurant Association. Bialek became the first woman to publicly accuse Cain of improper behavior.
As he’s done since the accusations surfaced a week ago, Cain flatly denied any wrongdoing. He said he doesn't even recollect meeting Bialek, contending he saw her for the first time when he watched her press conference on TV.
“As I sat in my hotel room with a couple of my staff members, as they got to the microphone, my first response in my mind and reaction was, ‘I don't even know who this woman is,’” he said. “Secondly, I didn't recognize the name at all.”
Cain also called the accusations of a second woman who went public on Tuesday “baseless,” although he acknowledged he was aware she filed a complaint against him with the NRA. Though Cain's accuser, Kraushaar, reached a settlement with the association, the presidential contender denied the agreement was a result of any harassment.
“The accusations were made of sexual harassment,” said the White House hopeful. “They were found baseless.”
(RELATED: Cain Hires Lawyer to Troubled Stars)
In an interview with The New York Times, Kraushaar, now a Treasury Department spokeswoman, offered no details about her allegations against Cain but suggested that she and the other three accusers should hold a joint press conference describing the charges they’ve leveled against him. She said she decided to speak out after other news organizations had revealed her identity.
Cain went out of his way to emphasize that he takes sexual harassment seriously, saying he has witnessed it in the workplace and calling it a "very serious charge.”
“In no way have I tried to minimize sexual harassment in the workplace,” he said. “Having led many organizations, yes, I have seen instances where it could be interpreted as sexual harassment. And if I saw it, and if it were an employee or a direct report of mine, I dealt with it immediately, before the other person perceived it as an infringement of their privacy.”
Cain blamed the flurry of accusations against his campaign on a “Democratic machine” and other opponents who he says don’t want a businessman to become president. But after a week of maintaining virtual silence about the story that has dominated the political headlines for the past week, many of Cain's Republican rivals began to raise concerns about the sexual allegations against him. In interviews with ABC and Yahoo, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich all characterized the charges as serious. "He has to have an answer and it has to be accurate," said Gingrich.
Romney called the reports “particularly disturbing.”
That his Republican opponents are beginning to weigh in on the accusations, first reported last week by Politico, underscores the peril Cain’s campaign faces, particularly now that two women have gone public. Gallup reported on Tuesday that Cain’s popularity among Republicans, once the highest in the field, has taken a dive since news of the accusations broke.
Cain acknowledged that even if he wants the story to end, it probably won’t. Other accusers will likely “come out of the woodwork,” he said.
“There will probably be others, not because I am aware of any, but because the machine to keep a businessman out of the White House is going to be relentless,” he said. “And if they continue to come, I will continue to respond.”