Herman Cain Explains His Side of Past Sexual Harassment Allegations to 'On the Record'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," October 31, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight, did Mr. Herman Cain sexually harass two co-workers or not? Here's Mr. Herman Cain.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Cain, nice to see you, sir.


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    VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, I think you probably noticed that you've stirred up a little bit of controversy, your campaign.

    CAIN: Some anonymous ladies have stirred up a controversy with respect to these false claims of sexual harassment.

    VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, let me see if I understand the story. I want to get all the background first.

    CAIN: OK.

    VAN SUSTEREN: When were you at the National Restaurant Association, what years?

    CAIN: I was at the National Restaurant Association from 1996, December, through the middle of 1999, two-and-a-half years.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Why did you leave?

    CAIN: I left because when I went there, I made the commitment to the board of directors that I only wanted to be there two to three years. I did not want to be a career association executive. So it was exactly two- and-a-half years that I decided to leave because I was off, wanting to do other things, starting my own business, the New Voice.

    VAN SUSTEREN: All right. So that I understand, it was Godfather Pizza -- was that a member of the restaurant association? I mean, is this, like -- I mean, who are the typical members?

    CAIN: Yes. Most of the restaurant chains in America, most of the independent restaurant owners in America belong to the restaurant association. Not 100 percent, but a large percentage of them, they are members of the restaurant association. All of the big companies are members. Godfather's was and still is a member of the National Restaurant Association. So we have members all the way from a single restaurant owner anywhere in America all the way up to a major chain like McDonald's.

    VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so the -- it's an organization -- is it located here in Washington? Is it a lobbying organization for Capitol Hill, one of its purposes?

    CAIN: Yes. The National Restaurant Association is headquartered here in Washington, D.C., and its mission, quite simply, is to represent the industry -- and we do have a lobbying arm of it -- educate the public and educate members and provide educational materials, and promote the restaurant industry. That's what it is all about. And Yes, it's located here in Washington, D.C.

    VAN SUSTEREN: When you were the head of it for those two-and-a-half years, about how many employees here in Washington?

    CAIN: About 150.

    VAN SUSTEREN: All right.

    CAIN: And we also had our educational foundation, which also reported to me, about 150 people located in Chicago. And we also had our convention staff in Chicago because each year, the National Restaurant Show was held in Chicago.

    VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Now, there is a woman who claimed you harassed her, sexually harassed her, right?

    CAIN: Yes.

    VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Now, did she work here or in Chicago?

    CAIN: The one that I am familiar with worked here in the Washington office. And I can't even remember her name because she had not been a long-term employee. But I do remember the formal allegations she made in terms of sexual harassment.

    I have never sexually harassed anybody in my life. And this formal charge was made. And then once it was made, I recused myself and turned it over to my general counsel and one of the other executives that worked for me, the lady in charge of human resources, and asked them to investigate. And they did.

    The charge was filed. They did investigate. 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 have come to me.

    VAN SUSTEREN: All right. What was her job?

    CAIN: She worked in one of our departments. It was -- she was -- she was a writer. She was in the communications area.

    VAN SUSTEREN: How often on a, like, weekly basis did you come in contact with her?

    CAIN: Not very much because...

    VAN SUSTEREN: What's "not very much"?

    CAIN: Meaning I might see her in the office because her office was on the same floor as my office. But her boss was also there. I would go down and see her boss, and her boss would come and see me because he had an office on the same floor. So I would say that maybe if I'm in the office and not out speaking to the 560 states -- because I spent a lot of time speaking to restaurant associations, state restaurant associations, so I was out of the office an awful a lot during that two-and-a-half years.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Did she travel at all with you?

    CAIN: No. She didn't...

    VAN SUSTEREN: Never?

    CAIN: Never. No. No. Never did travel with me.

    VAN SUSTEREN: About how old was she in the mid-'90s?

    CAIN: I'm not real sure of her age. In the mid-'90s, I was about 55 years of age. I can't recall. She was younger than I was, I do know that, but I really can't recall.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Twenties or thirties?

    CAIN: It would have had to have been late 30s, early 40s, is just a guess. And that's just a wild guess.

    VAN SUSTEREN: All right. How did you first hear that she was making a claim against you? Who told you?

    CAIN: The Politico that published the article...

    VAN SUSTEREN: No, going back into the '90s. When you first -- going back in the '90s, not...

    CAIN: Oh, OK.

    VAN SUSTEREN: ... the latest round, but...

    CAIN: Got it. Got it. Got it. My general counsel came to my office and told me that she had made a claim. And I said, OK, what do we need to do?

    VAN SUSTEREN: What did she -- what did he say she claimed you did?

    CAIN: He just used the term sexual harassment claim.

    VAN SUSTEREN: You didn't say what -- like what?

    CAIN: No.

    VAN SUSTEREN: You didn't say, like, Whoa, what did she say I did?

    CAIN: No, I didn't. I just said, What do you mean sexual harassment? She's made some claims of sexual harassment. Now, he may have told me what incidents that she might have included in the claim, but all day today, as I've been getting beat up, I've been trying to recall what some of those things were and haven't been able to recall a lot of them because that's why they got dismissed. It was no basis because it was simple stuff. And I can't remember all of...

    VAN SUSTEREN: Do you remember any of it?

    CAIN: I remember one that was in the claim, and that is, in my office -- and this has come about just during the day as I have tried to recollect what happened back then. Now, let me first make sure -- I recused myself and it was handled by two of my staff members. And they were -- one of them is an officer level. So once it was resolved, I wasn't involved, don't recall what, quote, unquote, "settlement," termination -- I don't know what it was.

    But here's the one incident that I recall as the day has gone on. She was in my office one day, and I made a gesture saying, Oh -- and I was standing close to her. And I made a gesture, You're the same height as my wife, and brought my hand -- didn't touch her -- up to my chin and said, You're the same height of my wife because my wife comes up to my chin, my wife of 43 years.

    And that was put in there as something that made her uncomfortable as part of the sexual harassment charge.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Did she say anything like, OK, that's weird, or anything, or she's -- just that the next thing you noted, it was in the accusation?

    CAIN: No. I can't recall any comment that she made, positive or negative, after I made the gesture about her height, comparing it to my wife's height.

    VAN SUSTEREN: OK. So it was -- so once the general counsel came to you and told you there was a claim, what was the next thing you did?

    CAIN: I recused myself and told Peter...

    VAN SUSTEREN: The general counsel.

    CAIN: ... the general counselor -- to get together with Mary -- I'm losing the last names because we're talking 12 years ago -- that for them to basically address it. I do recall that the lady making the charge had gotten an attorney. And I recused myself because I was the CEO and the charge was being leveled against me.

    Peter kept me updated on the progress of this whole situation, and the thing that I remember most is when one day he came in and said, First, the charges were found baseless.

    VAN SUSTEREN: By whom?

    CAIN: I don't recall by whom the charges were found baseless. I don't know whether it was attorneys getting together. I don't even remember if we had outside attorneys. I was busy traveling. I was busy running the association, so I wasn't involved in a lot of the details about this. So I really can't tell you how they were determined as being baseless.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Did this woman accuser -- did she say she had any witnesses? Not that she necessarily has to have any, but I'm curious. Did she say she had any?

    CAIN: One of the things that I do recall my general counsel telling me that one of the reasons that the -- it was no basis to it is because she couldn't find any witnesses to corroborate her story.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Which, of course, you know is sort of typical of -- you know, people don't necessarily sexually harass necessarily in crowds.

    CAIN: Right. Not necessarily in crowds. That one little incident about the height thing was in my office, door open, plain view. My secretary is sitting right outside the office. But in reviewing her case, she couldn't find anybody to corroborate her story.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Were you ever deposed or questioned by her lawyer?

    CAIN: No, I was not.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Was she, to your knowledge, ever deposed or questioned by your general counsel or anybody in connection with your organization?

    CAIN: I don't know for sure. I can only -- I don't want to presume. I do not know for sure.

    VAN SUSTEREN: OK. Between the time that you were told that there was an accusation against you and the time that it was settled, how much time was that about?

    CAIN: It was about six to nine months.

    VAN SUSTEREN: And during that time, did anyone talk to you at all about it?

    CAIN: No, other than my general counsel. That was the only person that talked to me about it.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Did you have any conversation with her?

    CAIN: No, none.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Was it sort of the deep freeze, neither one of you talked to each other at that point?

    CAIN: No, because she was no longer employed by the restaurant association.

    VAN SUSTEREN: How soon after the accusation against you was she no longer employed by the restaurant association?

    CAIN: That I don't recall. And I don't recall whether she left the restaurant association before making the accusation -- I can't recall which one came first.

    VAN SUSTEREN: OK. Was she fired, or was she -- left voluntarily or got a better job or a part of a settlement that she left?

    CAIN: I don't recall, Greta. I really don't. I do recall that her performance, it had been told to me by her boss, was not up to par. And I normally didn't get into whether someone is let go or fired unless I had to because I allow my department head to make that decision. Her boss, if he didn't think she was doing the job, I said, Well, you, along with the human resources department, figure out what you want to do, but do it the right way because there are procedures for letting people go if their performance is not up to par.

    VAN SUSTEREN: OK. So the six to nine months later, the general counsel comes in and says, It's settled?

    CAIN: Yes.

    VAN SUSTEREN: OK. Did you ask, like, Well, what did you do?

    CAIN: I did.

    VAN SUSTEREN: And what were you told?

    CAIN: He said this started out where she and her lawyer were demanding a huge financial settlement.

    VAN SUSTEREN: How much?

    CAIN: I don't remember the number.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Thousands or hundreds of thousands?

    CAIN: Thousands, but I don't remember a number. But then he said, The good news is because there was no basis for this, we ended up settling for what would have been a termination settlement, quite frankly, in terms of...

    VAN SUSTEREN: And what would that be, about?

    CAIN: Maybe three months' salary or something like that, just vaguely trying to recall it.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Is that a normal...

    CAIN: Yes.

    VAN SUSTEREN: When you leave the restaurant association, you get three months?

    CAIN: Depending on how long you have been there. It's based upon how many years you've been there. So I don't remember the -- it might have been two months. I don't remember the exact number, but I do remember my general counsel saying, The good news is, we didn't pay all of this money that was being demanded. It really worked out to what we probably would have been able to give her if she had resigned because for cause.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Why didn't she get that anyway? I mean, why didn't she get the settlement and the resignation or severance?

    CAIN: She would have gotten the severance, based upon what I recall the conditions under which she left. So we -- she ended up getting what she would have gotten if she had just said, I want to leave and I would like to negotiate a severance agreement. That's probably as far as we would have gone. But I can't guarantee that it was two months or three months. I just know it was well within the range of what we would do if we had an amicable separation between the association and an employee.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Any idea about what she was making a year?

    CAIN: Can't recall. Probably -- probably $40,000 to $50,000 a year, maybe.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Did she ever make any other claim against anybody else, or did she have any unfortunate relationship with anybody else who worked there?

    CAIN: Not that I know of. No, not that I know of.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Did the board have any role in this at all?

    CAIN: No because we were treating it as a human resource matter that we wanted to resolve. And because it got resolved without a major payout, it got resolved without us having to go to court, we didn't feel the need to share it with the board. And it's interesting that in that article, the three people that did go public...

    VAN SUSTEREN: You mean in the Politico article.

    CAIN: That Politico article. The three people that did go public was the past chairman, the existing chairman and the incoming chairman. So three people who would have known about this, if it had been a big issue, they all stated in the article and attested to my character and my integrity. They didn't even know about it because it wasn't a big issue that was blown up that they needed to know about because of the way it was resolved by my staff.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Did you ever see the settlement agreement with her?

    CAIN: No.

    VAN SUSTEREN: You didn't sign it?

    CAIN: No. I don't recall signing it. Now, the fact that I say I don't recall signing it doesn't mean that I didn't sign it, but I simply don't recall if I signed it.

    VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Now, you mentioned the Politico article, where the members of the board who came out very strongly for you...

    CAIN: Yes.

    VAN SUSTEREN: In that same article, they suggested there's another woman.

    CAIN: Yes. And I'm totally unaware as to any formal charges coming from this other person. And the other woman, the name is not mentioned in Politico, but Politico shared the name of this other lady with my staff, so I know the name of the person that's alleged to be the other one. She had been a longer-term employee. But I have no knowledge that she made a formal complaint or accusation or anything like that.

    VAN SUSTEREN: So she never got any settlement or any sort of severance, as far as you know?

    CAIN: As far as I know because...

    VAN SUSTEREN: Would you know?

    CAIN: I would know -- I would know if there had been some formal complaint because my general counsel would have advised me to settle if it was serious for whatever reason. But I'm not even aware that a complaint was made.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Did anyone tell your staff what this second woman claimed you did?

    CAIN: No. They only said that there were two instances, two ladies that worked at the restaurant association that were claiming sexual harassment by me. That's what they told us. They only shared the name of one of the ladies.

    VAN SUSTEREN: The one being the one who hadn't signed the settlement?

    CAIN: No, the one that I didn't even know that that was a formal charge.

    VAN SUSTEREN: OK, but the one with the settlement, you know who that is, you just don't remember her last name?

    CAIN: I don't remember her name at all...


    CAIN: ... the one where there was some sort of agreement.

    VAN SUSTEREN: All right. The one whose name you do remember, that they shared with you, what was her job?

    CAIN: She worked in our governmental affairs department and she worked in the function that managed our political action committee.

    VAN SUSTEREN: And how often would you see her in a given week?

    CAIN: Not a lot because I was on the road a lot. So if I'm in the office, it would be casually running into her, like I would run into everybody. But because when I was in that role, I was on the road a lot -- one year, I gave 80 speeches. And if you figure out the math on that, because -- and went to nearly every state because they would have a state restaurant association meeting -- I mean a state convention -- and I would go. So I was gone an awful lot.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Did you ever travel with this second woman?

    CAIN: No.

    VAN SUSTEREN: So you have never -- have you ever been in a hotel room, to have even -- to have inappropriate conversation with anyone?

    CAIN: No.

    VAN SUSTEREN: There was one suggestion that someplace in Chicago, I think that -- if I got this right -- that you had had a conversation with someone. Is that not right?

    CAIN: When we were at the restaurant show, I was constantly talking with different staff members about different issues. If I had a private conversation with her, I don't recall having a private conversation with her. But all of the conversations that I had, it could have been. But I don't recollect.


    VAN SUSTEREN: And straight ahead, you hear more from Mr. Herman Cain, including why he believes the sexual harassment scandal is suddenly exploding.


    VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Herman Cain insists accusations of sexual harassment against him are false. Here's more of our interview with Mr. Cain.


    VAN SUSTEREN: Why do you think this is coming up now?

    CAIN: I believe this is coming up now because I'm doing so well in this Republican presidential campaign. I'm in the top tier. I'm statistically tied with Mitt Romney, and in some of the polls, I'm actually in first place.

    I have no idea who's egging this on, who's on this witch hunt, but I am convinced, and my staff and I are convinced, that it is intended to, one, distract us -- and it is a distraction. Secondly, a lot of people have a problem with the fact that I'm doing so well and I'm so likable. Third, since they cannot shoot holes in my proposals, my plans, they're going to try to shoot holes in me, the candidate. So that's the reason it is coming up now.

    VAN SUSTEREN: You know, a lot of guys don't know what sexual harassment is. I mean, they just think they're being -- you know, complimenting a woman.

    CAIN: Right.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Are you one of those guys? I mean, like, do you -- I mean, do you sort of know where the line is where inappropriate and appropriate -- or are you, like, one of these over-complimenters and just don't get it? I mean, what -- and how -- how do I -- how do we know?

    CAIN: I believe I have a good sense for where you cross the line relative to sexual harassment. But you have to know the lady, the individual. And if you look at my entire 40-year career and you look at the fact that I worked for the Department of the Navy, Coca-Cola, the Pillsbury Company, managed organizations, ran a region for Burger King, ran Godfather's Pizza, and I get to the National Restaurant Association.

    Up to that point, not one accusation of sexual harassment, which meant that I did a pretty good job of knowing where to draw the line. I thought I had drawn the line and not infringed upon what was obviously perceived as sexual harassment on her part when I made that little gesture about her height, and I can't honestly remember what else was even in the accusation.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Got a roaming eye at all?

    CAIN: A roaming eye?


    CAIN: I enjoy flowers, like everybody else.

    VAN SUSTEREN: You know what I mean.


    CAIN: No. No, not at all.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Not at all.

    CAIN: Well, I wouldn't say not at all. Depends upon what you mean and (INAUDIBLE) to what you mean.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I'm trying to -- you know, women see sexual harassment sometimes very differently than men.

    CAIN: Correct.

    VAN SUSTEREN: And you don't recall exactly, and maybe it didn't occur, you know, maybe there was no conversation -- I mean, women -- look, women can make it up and they can be telling the truth.

    CAIN: Right.

    VAN SUSTEREN: And it's always -- and it's always just two people alone and it's sort of hard to tell. And so I'm trying to get a sense of whether or not you're one of those guys that's a little too friendly and a little too cozy when you're, you know, with a co-worker.

    CAIN: Here's what I can tell you.


    CAIN: I know I never made any innuendoes with the lady that filed the complaint that we were talking about at first. None.


    CAIN: Zero. Zero. None.

    VAN SUSTEREN: And the other woman, whose name you remember? Ever anything -- nothing with her?

    CAIN: No. I recall that there were times when some of the members of the staff would go out for Friday evening, you know, cocktails or appetizers and this sort of thing, and so typically, it could have been a group of us. She was in some of those group activities where we went out together. But it was never she and I alone or anything like that. The first one that you talked about, she never was in any of those kind of, you know, after-hour activities.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Are you one of those guys in a group who can say sort of dopey things that women can later -- you know, often, when they go into the ladies' room, they talk about the guys, they say, Did you hear what Mr. Cain said or what Herman Cain said? Are you, like, one of those guys who says sort of dopey, inappropriate things in groups?

    CAIN: No. The only thing that I could be guilty of saying in a group of men and women is paying a compliment to the woman. For example, if I'm with friends and I'm there and my wife is there, I might compliment my friend on, you know, how lucky he is to, you know, have married up because some men marry up, and you know, those kind of compliments, just complimenting somebody else.

    So I would, you know, say that about, or I would, you know, pay a lady a compliment. If she changed her hair, you know, I might say something like, Oh, you changed your hairstyle. It's very becoming. So I would make compliments to women in group settings like that, sure.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any chance more women are going to -- you know, or more accusations come out of the woodwork? Because that's the thing that's -- you know, is most painful in all these sort of...

    CAIN: Right.

    VAN SUSTEREN: ... candidates or -- is that all of a sudden, you say, No, there are no -- and then the next day, someone else shows up. And then all of a sudden, you look like a big liar, not to mention a big sexual harasser. Is there anything else out there or should we -- that we can lay on the table now?

    CAIN: To my knowledge, Greta, no. Remember, I -- there wasn't even an inkling of a sexual harassment charge in all of the other jobs that I had, all the way up until the time that I worked for the National Restaurant Association. To my knowledge, no.

    Is it possible that someone is going to make something up? Yes. But is it going to be credible in terms of there was an actual sexual harassment case filed? No, because I would have known about it. If someone is going to step forward and say that I made some inappropriate comments or acted inappropriately that they could call sexual harassment, even though they didn't file a formal complaint -- not to my knowledge.

    But remember, people can still make stuff up. But I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that there's no other credible ones out there that could actually show up and, OK, here we go again. You won't get a "Here we go again" because there isn't anything.

    VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it took -- I think that Politico says that they contacted your staff about the 20th of October and it took several days to get an answer. So you know, that fuels lots of suspicion.

    CAIN: Right.

    VAN SUSTEREN: Why did it take what seems like to us several days? It may not seem that way to you. But what took so long?

    CAIN: We made a conscious decision they my staff person brought it to my attention that since these were two anonymous claims, that we did not want to legitimize two anonymous claims until Politico felt that they were ready to go public with this. That's why. Why chase anonymous?

    Secondly, we weren't even aware of what the article was going to say. We didn't know what we were going to have to defend. So why defend something before you know what it is that you have to defend? And I'm glad that we waited because they quoted three board members who basically confirmed my character and my integrity. That's why we waited.