Cain Evades Questions On Sexual Harassment Claims

GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain continues the toughest week of his campaign, holding a press conference after a health care event in Virginia and then meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Cain may have hoped to focus on health care, but he could not escape questions about sexual harassment claims against him during his tenure at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.

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Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain was also in Washington today struggling with the sexual harassment scandal that has engulfed his campaign. Back in the 1990s, when Cain was head of the National Restaurant Association, two women were given cash settlements after accusing him of inappropriate behavior.

As NPR's Tamara Keith reports, the lawyer for one of Cain's accusers is now asking the association to release her from the confidentiality agreement.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The National Restaurant Association confirmed this afternoon they were contacted by attorney Joel Bennett. An association spokeswoman says he was told to contact their outside counsel. Bennett was on "The Today Show" this morning and said he believes his client should be able to tell her side of the story.

JOEL BENNETT: She would like to speak out for the record only because Mr. Cain has stated that he didn't sexually harass anyone, there wasn't any substance to the allegations, and basically made it look like she was some type of frivolous claimant just looking for money.

HERMAN CAIN: Excuse me, you're crowding me. Excuse me, excuse me.

KEITH: On at least three different occasions today, reporters, including myself, attempted to ask Cain about this.

Sir, are you going to call on the Restaurant Association to release these women from the nondisclosure? You have women saying some relatively disparaging things in the media.

Cain just looked ahead and didn't say a word.

Do you think she should be allowed to talk?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Will you ever comment on this?

KEITH: Are you done commenting?

And so it went, down a hallway in the Rayburn House office building, down a staircase, down another hallway and outside. He finally answered a couple of questions about health care before hopping into a black SUV.

CAIN: Thank you.

KEITH: Since the news broke Sunday night, Cain has changed his story several times. He still insists he has never sexually harassed anyone, but with every nationally televised interview, he's seemed to remember more details, sometimes contradicting what he had said earlier. Cain told Fox's Bill O'Reilly last night his campaign could have handled it better.

CAIN: What happened was, when questions got asked, I was trying to remember some of those facts in the middle of a very busy day.

KEITH: Cain has been in Washington all week holding public events and meeting with members of Congress. Earlier today, he appeared at a press conference, but then didn't take any questions. To many outside observers, it looks like Cain's campaign has been badly damaged by the controversy, but Cain told O'Reilly it hasn't hurt him a bit.

CAIN: In the last 24 hours, our fundraising has been the highest it has been since I've been in this campaign.

KEITH: A campaign spokesman says Cain raised $400,000 online and from other sources. Last night, Cain had dinner with a group of senators, including North Carolina Republican Richard Burr.

SENATOR RICHARD BURR: I think his campaign has to successfully bring some finality to this.

KEITH: At least today Cain's campaign hasn't been able to accomplish this. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the capitol.

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