Cain has been accused by at least three women of sexual harassment when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the mid-1990s. The issue is dominating the race to decide a Republican challenger to face Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election.
Herman Cain flatly denies the most serious allegation facing him – that he made an unwanted sexual advance toward a female employee at a work event – but Politico has learned new details making clear there were urgent discussions of the woman’s accusations at top levels of the National Restaurant Association within hours of when the incident was alleged to have occurred.
“This is absolutely fabrication, man,” Cain told conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity, adding later: “We’re not going to get distracted. As of today we’re back on message and we’re going to stay on message.”
One of the women said earlier this week that she wanted to talk publicly about accusations that Cain had sexually harassed her, but she has since changed her mind and wanted to make a written statement through her lawyer.
The woman’s lawyer, Joel Bennett, gave the statement to the restaurant group, said Sue Hensley, a spokeswoman for the restaurant association.
“We are currently reviewing the document, and we plan to respond tomorrow,” Hensley, of the association, said.
The woman told one of the sources Cain made a suggestion that she felt was overtly sexual in nature and that “she perceived that her job was at risk if she didn’t do it,” according to Politico.
“If speaking to somebody is sexual harassment, give me a break,” Herman Cain said. “All I do is speak to people everywhere I go and even though they are the receptionists, I treat them with respect by saying hello.”
Cain complained of his treatment by the U.S. news media after spending most of this week in the glare of the Washington press corps, giving conflicting accounts of the case and accusing rival Rick Perry of instigating the controversy to derail his surging campaign.
“This is the D.C. culture: Guilty until proven innocent,” Cain told conservative activist Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in an interview for The Daily Caller website.
Meanwhile, an aide to Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain told the Washington Post on Thursday that the campaign is considering taking legal action against Politico, which ran the first report on sexual harassment allegations made against Cain during his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.
“This is likely not over with Politico from a legal perspective,” the aide, who was not identified by name, told the Post without elaborating on the campaign’s intentions.
Politico reported that two women received financial payouts from the National Restaurant Association over allegations of sexual harassment more than a decade ago. A third woman told the AP this week that she considered filing a workplace complaint over what she believed was inappropriate behavior exhibited by Cain around the same time the other women settled harassment claims.
According to Politico, one of the women received $45,000 in her settlement, while the New York Times reported that the other was paid $35,000.
Cain told Forbes magazine he believes a former employee who now works for Perry, Curt Anderson, was the original source of the story published by news website Politico Sunday that reported on the harassment charges.
Cain’s charges against Rick Perry prompted a vigorous round of mud-slinging on the campaign trail, with the Perry camp suggesting that candidate Mitt Romney was responsible and Romney’s team denying it.
“Our campaign didn’t have anything to do with it,” Texas Governor Perry told CNN, vowing that if he found out anyone in his camp was responsible for spreading around the information, they would be “out the door.”
Political commentators say Perry stands to benefit from a collapse of Cain’s campaign in their fight to become the conservative alternative to the more moderate Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.
At the same time, most analysts believe Cain would eventually falter anyway, as the former pizza executive has little political experience and has recently suffered a series of stumbles.