Politico Reporter On Cain's Alleged Misconduct

Steve Inskeep speaks with reporter Jonathan Martin of Politico. The publication is reporting that presidential candidate Herman Cain was accused of inappropriate behavior by two female colleagues while he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s. The women later left the organization and are said to have received five-figure payouts and signed nondisclosure agreements about the incident.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Republican presidential front-runner Herman Cain has had a contentious 24 hours. On Sunday morning, Cain appeared on CBS. He made news with some of his strongest statements yet against abortion. Then Cain stepped outside and was confronted by questions about himself. A reporter from the newspaper Politico asked about claims that two women accused Cain of inappropriate behavior. That allegedly happened during Cain's time as head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.

Politico reporter Jonathan Martin covered the story. He's on the line. Mr. Martin, welcome to the program.

JONATHAN MARTIN: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEEP: What did the women say that Cain did?

MARTIN: Well, our sources tell us that in the late 1990s, two female employees of the Restaurant Association felt uncomfortable with verbal and physical gestures by Mr. Cain. They complained to both colleagues and senior officials about his behavior. And these women subsequently left the organization with five-figure compensation packages and non-disclosure agreements.

INSKEEEP: Non-disclosure agreements - so that means that you have not been able to get their story on the record, directly from them. Is that right?

MARTIN: Yeah, we're not going to talk about exact sources. I can say that in the course of doing this story, Steve, over the last three weeks, we talked to dozens of individuals. We talked to current and former employees. We talked to current and former board members. We talked a lot of folks in Washington, D.C., that work with his organization.

INSKEEEP: You said both verbal and physical action. What, exactly, did Herman Cain allegedly do?

MARTIN: Well, I have to be careful about this because obviously, we're being cautious when it comes to - I'm not revealing too much that would imperil these women. But it was behavior that made them feel uncomfortable. It was, I think, sexually suggestive behavior. It was comments. It was questions. It was some touching, some physical gestures.

INSKEEEP: And you mentioned, Jonathan Martin, that the women left the company, were given financial packages as they left, and that they signed nondisclosure agreements.

MARTIN: Right.

INSKEEEP: Is it clear to you that the money was paid, essentially, in compensation, or as a settlement, to close out this accusation?

MARTIN: That's what all our sources are suggesting to us. Now, I should note that we have, in one of these cases, seen documentation. It gets to these allegations, and also makes clear that the organization did formally resolve the matter.

INSKEEEP: So now, you confronted Herman Cain himself, as he stepped out of the CBS studios yesterday, here in Washington D.C. What did Herman Cain say?

MARTIN: Well, we've been trying to get his campaign to respond to these allegations for 10 days. And so, we finally had to go to Mr. Cain himself. He at first said that he wanted more concrete information. He wanted a name. We reminded him of one of the individual's names; he wouldn't comment. And then I asked him four separate times: Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment? He would not answer that question.

On the fourth time that I asked, he turned around the question and said: Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment? So he was posed with a very basic question four separate times, and refused to answer yes or no.

INSKEEEP: Didn't answer yes or no. Now, his campaign has since put out a statement that the Associated Press reads as a denial. Do you feel that you're getting any more concrete information out of Cain's campaign at this moment?

MARTIN: Well, I was actually struck by their statement last night. It was not a denial. In fact, it attacked us, but there was no denial in there. And when they were pressed by the AP, the spokesman said to his knowledge, Cain hadn't done this. But of course, "to his knowledge" offers a bit of wiggle room. And that same spokesman was on, I think, Fox News last night and would not deny them...TEXT:

INSKEEEP: Why would this come out now, Mr. Martin?

MARTIN: Well, obviously, you know, we're in a campaign season. We're, you know, in a political season. And obviously, Mr. Cain is somebody who is running, has received some support in his party. I think there is interest. These candidates are going to receive scrutiny about their background, and about who they are and what they've done...TEXT:

INSKEEEP: Have there been stories surrounding Herman Cain, of this sort, for while? Is that what got you going on it?

MARTIN: That's an interesting question, Steve. You know, in the campaign's response to us - their first response to us - they said that these were old and tired allegations. That was just actually news to me because I hadn't heard them before, you know, until the last few weeks, when we started working on this story. So you know, I think if you talk to some folks in and around the Restaurant Association, they've heard some of this before. But it was news to me.

INSKEEEP: Jonathan Martin is a reporter for Politico. Thanks very much.

MARTIN: Thank you, Steve.

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