Cain insists he's 'never acted inappropriately with anyone, period'

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 8, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Striving to save his presidential campaign, Herman Cain on Tuesday flatly denied allegations that he's sexually harassed and groped women, defiantly declaring that he will not be driven from the race or denied his chance to be president.

Cain said he couldn't even remember the woman who went public with charges on Monday, Sharon Bialek. He also said that one of the charges filed against him in the 1990s was found to be baseless, and that his exchange with the woman was innocent.

In just one sign that his news conference likely did not settle the issue, however, he warned that there likely will be more revelations of charges against him in the future. At the same time, one of the four women who've made the allegations said Tuesday that she'll try to get all of the women who accuse Cain with harassment together for a joint news conference.

"There will probably be others, not because I am aware of any, but because the machine to keep a businessman out of the White House is going to be relentless," Cain said.

"We are not going to allow Washington or politics to deny me the opportunity to represent this great nation," he said at a nationally televised news conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. Withdrawing, he added, "ain't going to happen."

Cain, a former CEO of the Godfather's Pizza chain and head of the National Restaurant Association, called the news conference to address the charges that threaten his bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination at a time when he's been at or near the top in many national polls.

Initial reviews suggested he fell short of addressing the accusations in a way that would assure the party and keep him atop polls.

"This isn't going to help him," Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative website Redstate.com, said after the news conference.

"He was already slipping before these stories came out. This will accelerate his decline," Republican pollster Whit Ayres said earlier Tuesday.

"Now we see Cain supporters having pause," Iowa Republican analyst Craig Robinson added, also before Cain spoke. "He can no longer laugh it up. This is serious, serious stuff."

"My sense is he's dropping like a rock," South Carolina Republican strategist J. David Woodard said.

Cain opened his news conference with the kind of broad denials he's issued since the Politico website first reported that the National Restaurant Association had settled two complaints of sexual harassment lodged against Cain while he was with the association.

"I have never acted inappropriately with anyone, period," he said.

Asked if he would take a lie-detector test, Cain said he would be willing to, but then hedged. "Yes, I absolutely would," he said. "But I'm not going to do that unless I have a good reason to do that."

Of the allegation from Bialek on Monday that he'd groped her, Cain said he had no memory of her when seeing her televised statement Monday.

"I tried to remember if I recognized her and I didn't. I tried to remember if I remembered that name and I didn't," he said. "The charges and the accusations I absolutely reject. They simply didn't happen."

He didn't address a report in the Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday that Bialek was seen talking with Cain weeks ago backstage at a tea party political event in Chicago. She's said she approached him then to ask if he remembered her.

Cain said Tuesday that she was just one of 150 employees in Chicago. According to her account, she had lost that job, and traveled to Washington to have dinner with Cain and ask about another job when he accosted her.

Cain, who released a list of legal complaints filed by Bialek as a way of undermining her credibility, said Tuesday that it makes sense to ask if she's coming forward now to find a way to make money.

"Now the Democrat machine of America has brought forth a troubled woman to make false allegations," he said.

Cain also spoke about one of the charges filed against him in the 1990s. The woman, who publicly identified herself Tuesday and said she'd try to convene other women to talk about Cain, is Karen Kraushaar, a respected 55-year-old veteran senior government communications official now working at the Treasury Department.

"I can only recall one thing that I was aware of that was called sexual harassment," Cain said. "The one thing that I remember ... is that day in my office in the National Restaurant Association, I was standing next to Ms. Kraushaar, and gestured near her, 'You're the same height as my wife,' because my wife comes up to my chin. That was the one gesture I remember. The door was open. My secretary was there. End of story."

Cain insisted that Kraushaar's charge of sexual harassment was found to be baseless by the association's outside counsel, and he argued that a settlement with her ending the matter, in which she reportedly was paid a cash amount, did not amount to an acknowledgement of wrongdoing.

"To the best of my recollection, that is the one I recall who filed a complaint but it was found to be baseless," he said.

"They were found baseless," he said. "There was no legal settlement. There was an agreement between that lady and the National Restaurant Association and it was treated as a personnel matter because there was no basis to her accusation. Those are the facts. She could not find anyone to corroborate her story."

Cain, who stood alone after being introduced by his attorney, said his wife stood by him and asked the news media to leave his family alone.

"I have been married for 43 years to my wife, Gloria," he said, then quoted her as saying, "That doesn't even sound like anything you would ever do. ... I ask that the media not drag my family into this. ... Some members of your profession have even stalked members of my family."

He acknowledged that the "firestorm" could take a toll on a campaign, but he insisted his supporters are with him.

"It is natural that some voters would be turned off by the mere mention of the accusations," he said. "Most of my supporters have not reacted to this ... many of them have expressed their outpouring of support."

(David Goldstein contributed to this article.)

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