A Week Of Harassment For Herman Cain

This week was to have been Herman Cain's triumphant arrival in Washington, D.C., as a front-running GOP presidential candidate. Instead, he spent all five days dogged by sexual harassment allegations, capped on Friday by a statement from one of the victims through her lawyer. NPR's Tamara Keith recaps.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Quite a week for Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain. He came to Washington, D.C. for a series of public events and meetings with members of Congress, but decade-old sexual harassment allegations dogged him all week long, and then late yesterday the story took another turn when the lawyer for one of the accusers made a public statement. NPR's Tamara Keith has the latest.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Attorney Joel Bennett walked out of his Washington law office and read a statement from his client.

JOEL BENNETT: In 1999 I was retained by a female employee of the National Restaurant Association concerning several instances of sexual harassment by the then CEO.

KEITH: That CEO was Herman Cain. Bennett said his client wanted to remain anonymous, but also wanted to share her side of the story.

BENNETT: She made a complaint in good faith about a series of inappropriate behaviors and unwanted advances from the CEO. Those complaints were resolved in an agreement with her acceptance of a monetary settlement.

KEITH: The story first broke on Sunday night on the news website, Politico. It said that when Cain was head of the National Restaurant Association, two women accused him of sexual harassment and received cash settlements. At first his campaign denied it, blaming the inside-the-beltway media. Then Cain admitted he had been accused of harassment, but said he had done nothing wrong and there were no settlements. As time went on, he remembered more. This was him on Monday night talking to Greta Van Susteren on Fox News.


HERMAN CAIN: It was found to be baseless, and yes, there was some sort of settlement or termination, and I don't even know what the contents of that was since it was found baseless. There was no big settlement, or it would have had to come to me.

KEITH: And this is why Bennett says his client felt compelled to say something, even if only through a statement from her attorney.

BENNETT: There's an expression, where there's smoke there's fire. The fact that there are multiple complaints tells me that it's more likely than not that there was some sexual harassment activity by this man at that time.

KEITH: The Cain campaign didn't respond directly. Instead, spokesman J.D. Gordon said in a statement that the campaign looks forwarding to focusing its attention on the real issues affecting this country. Since the controversy began, Cain's campaign claims to have raised well over a million dollars, and a new poll taken this week finds he's still at the front of the GOP pack. John Stineman is a Republican strategist in Iowa.

JOHN STINEMAN: He has a loyal following, and more importantly, the people that have lined up with him are simply not influenced by the media, and they make up their own minds.

KEITH: Stineman says the statement from Bennett is one more problem for Cain because it adds the detail that there were multiple harassment incidents, but...

STINEMAN: You know, it might not mean anything this respect to the people who are willing to support Herman Cain for president.

KEITH: Though he says this now becomes part of the narrative of Herman Cain's campaign for president. Instead of being known only for his 9-9-9 tax plan, for many voters, Cain is also now known as the candidate who was accused of sexual harassment. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

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