Published November 02, 2011
WASHINGTON – Herman Cain's besieged presidential campaign faces increased pressure over sexual harassment allegations from the 1990s, including calls to lift a gag order on a financial settlement with one of the two former female employees who filed complaints, as well as new allegations from a third woman.
The third woman said Wednesday she considered filing a workplace complaint against Cain over what she viewed as aggressive and unwanted behavior, including a private invitation to his corporate apartment.
Like the other two, this woman also worked for the National Restaurant Association when Cain was its head and she said Cain made sexually suggestive remarks or gestures about the same time that her two co-workers had settled their complaints against him.
Cain's campaign declined to comment on the latest allegation.
Meanwhile, the attorney for one of two women who apparently received financial settlements said Wednesday that he will formally request his client be allowed to speak publicly about the case.
Attorney Joel Bennett told Fox Business Network that he will file his request on Thursday before the National Restaurant Association asking that his client be removed from a confidentiality agreement attached to the settlement. The woman was an employee at the association while Cain was head of the group at the time of the alleged incident. Cain is now leading the polls for the Republican presidential nomination.
"We will send a formal letter tomorrow to the Restaurant Association, and we will hopefully be able to then put out a statement," Bennett said in an interview.
He said Cain's statements, in which he said he was "falsely accused" and that he never sexually harassed anyone, should open the door for his client to be able to speak about the case.
Bennett said he's taking the request straight to the association, and that it "does not have to go to a judge."
The National Restaurant Association is not saying much about the case. An association spokeswoman released a statement Wednesday saying Bennett touched base with the association that morning.
"An association representative promptly returned his call and asked Mr. Bennett to contact the Association's outside counsel. Mr. Bennett indicated that he would do so tomorrow, after he met with his client," spokeswoman Sue Hensley said in the statement.
According to a source quoted by The Associated Press, the woman in question is still reluctant about coming forward despite her lawyer's comments.
It's unclear how much the woman Bennett represents received in the settlement. The New York Times reported Wednesday that the other woman received $35,000, representing a year's salary.
The third woman said she did not file a formal complaint because she began having fewer interactions with Cain. Afterward, she learned that a co-worker had already done so. She said she would have had to file if they hadn't.
The woman spoke only on condition of anonymity, saying she feared retaliation. She was located and approached by the AP as part of its investigation into harassment complaints against Cain that were disclosed in recent days and have thrown his presidential campaign into turmoil. She said she was reluctant to describe the encounters she had with Cain when they worked together at the Washington-based restaurant trade group.
The employee described in conversations with the AP over several days situations in which she said Cain told her that he had confided to colleagues how attractive she was and invited her to his corporate apartment outside work.
His actions "were inappropriate, and it made me feel uncomfortable," she said.
Cain's campaign manager, Mark Block, replied, "No comment," when he was asked Wednesday about the new allegations.
The AP confirmed that the employee worked at the restaurant association with Cain during the period in question, that she has no party affiliation in her voter registration in the past decade and is not identified as a donor in federal campaigns or local political campaigns. Records show she was registered as a Democrat at one point previously.
Amid swirling questions about Cain's tenure at the restaurant group, the candidate is trying to project an image of campaign business as usual Wednesday.
The Georgia businessman gave a speech on health care in northern Virginia, and was heading next to Capitol Hill to meet with congressional Republicans.
But it was clear that the issue wasn't going away.
Bennett told The Associated Press he would have more to say after he meets with his client Wednesday.
Over the past two days, Cain has admitted he knew of one agreement between the restaurant association and a woman who accused him of sexual harassment. He has said the woman initially asked for a large financial settlement but ultimately received two to three months' pay as part of a separation agreement. Cain also acknowledged remembering one of the woman's accusations against him, saying he stepped close to her to make a reference to her height, and told her she was the same height as his wife.
He has said he is not aware of agreements or settlements with any other women, though Politico -- which first disclosed the allegations -- reported that the trade group had given settlements to at least two female employees who accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior.
Cain has repeatedly denied he ever harassed anyone, but has struggled to remain consistent on the details. He first denied remembering the specifics of the complaints, then offered up some details of an incident in which a woman apparently had trouble with a hand gesture he says he used to compare her height to that of his wife, Gloria. He said in interviews that the details had come back to him during an intense day of questioning.
By Tuesday night, Cain had begun to try to pivot toward Congress and the war for lawmakers' endorsements that could mean critical on-the-ground support and campaign cash.
Cain dined near the Capitol with a gathering of Republican senators Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, after a speech in nearby Alexandria, Va., Cain was to head back to Capitol Hill for a speech to House members on health care.
From there, it was back-to-back events set up by Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga. First, Cain met House members at the discreet Capitol Hill Club for a conversation about health care policy. Then it was on to the Republican National Committee, where Cain spoke with members of the Georgia delegation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.